Strengthening legal practice on statelessness in the UK

Sarah Woodhouse and Judith Carter, in-house solicitors at Liverpool Law Clinic, University of Liverpool
/ 4 mins read

The UK’s procedure for granting statelessness leave holds out a promise of protection to people who are stateless, but there is a danger that its potential will not be fulfilled and that stateless people in the UK will not benefit from it. Given the challenges faced by many stateless persons in the UK – many have no permission to work or access to benefits and some face lengthy periods of time in immigration detention - this is a serious matter.

A new publication will equip legal practitioners with the tools they need to offer high quality legal representation and to press for the best possible implementation of the procedure. Statelessness and Applications for Leave to Remain: a Best Practice Guide is launched today, published jointly by the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association and Liverpool Law Clinic.

The need for the Best Practice Guide

A previous ENS blog has highlighted some of the problems with the UK’s criteria for granting people who are stateless lawful permission to stay – and especially with their practical implementation. Problems include very low recognition rates (about 5% of applications decided so far have been granted); lack of legal aid; excruciatingly slow decision-making by the Home Office; legal errors by Home Office staff; and no right of appeal if an application is refused. Faced with challenges like these, people who are stateless need all the help they can get. High quality legal representation by a lawyer who understands this area of fast-developing law is vital – and can dramatically improve the chances of a positive decision.

Making applications for permission to stay on the basis of statelessness is not the bread and butter of most expert immigration lawyers’ practice. In fact, immigration lawyers are just beginning to explore the scope and potential of the UK’s statelessness procedure. The procedure is relatively new, having only been introduced in 2013 – so it is unsurprising that knowledge of the 1954 Statelessness Convention lags far behind knowledge of the 1951 Refugee Convention. There is little guidance from the Courts - only two judicial review decisions by the Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber - which means key legal questions remain undecided. Because there is no automatic entitlement to legal aid, and many potential applicants are destitute, few lawyers have ever prepared and submitted a statelessness application. Even where a lawyer has done so, they probably won’t have received a decision yet as a result of Home Office delays. This means they have no direct experience of what works and what does not work that they can draw on for future casework. Finding a lawyer with knowledge and experience is not easy.

This is where the Best Practice Guide comes in. It covers every aspect of the Home Office’s statelessness procedure; identifying potential applicants, securing legal aid, evidencing an application, preparing legal submissions, dealing with Home Office interviews and refusal decisions, and the entitlements of those recognised as stateless and granted permission to stay. It explores arguments that might be used to persuade (and challenge) the Home Office – as well as highlighting pitfalls to avoid.

The Best Practice Guide shares the expertise of lawyers working at Liverpool Law Clinic. The Clinic, part of the University of Liverpool’s law Department, began offering free representation to stateless persons in 2013, shortly after the UK’s procedure was introduced. The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association brought together a wider group of experts to contribute to the writing of the Best Practice Guide, and it has generously funded the publication of thousands of copies and its wide distribution. The Best Practice Guide can also be downloaded by anyone, without charge, from ILPA’s website.

Free training on statelessness

The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, Liverpool Law Clinic and Asylum Aid are jointly organising free training courses for lawyers to accompany the Best Practice Guide, taking place at various venues around the UK. Asylum Aid is also providing training to stateless people, as well as to NGO staff; their identification of potential applicants, referral to lawyers, and support in practical and emotional terms to applicants is invaluable.

Best practice guide launch event

The launch event is at 6.15pm this evening (3 November) in Finsbury Square. Bronwen Manby, Adrian Berry and Sarah Woodhouse will speak to an audience of legal practitioners, judges and NGO staff. There are still a few spaces: if you would like to attend email who will confirm your inclusion on the guest list.

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