Windrush at 75: Victims denied access to legal aid
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Windrush at 75: Victims denied access to legal aid

Layla* came to the UK to join her parents in 1988 when she was three, after her parents arrived and settled from Nigeria in the early 1960s. At the age of 17, there was an incident of domestic violence in her home and she was kicked out while pregnant.

Her application for emergency accommodation was denied by her local authority on the basis that she was not able to prove her legal status in the country. Pregnant and homeless, she was forced to return to the home where domestic violence had taken place.

Layla applied for settled status in 2002 but it took the Home Office five years to grant her indefinite leave to remain. Those five years were spent in the home where domestic violence would occur before she was finally able to move out.

Ferguson, currently working her case at cost, applied for compensation on her behalf. He also applied for exceptional case funding on the basis that: “Were not for legal assistance or legal representation, she may not be able to put the case together properly. She also found it a very traumatic experience.”

While the Legal Aid Agency accepted the lack of settled status was an issue, and that Layla had continued problems finding work as a result of this, she refused her application for exceptional case funding.

Instead, Layla was directed to a Home Office funded service called ‘We Are Digital’, ‘assisted digital’ support designed to help her fill out online Home Office application forms.

Ferguson said: “They make it very clear that they are not a legal service, they are not legally qualified. And they only offer up to three hours of assistance. It’s only there to fill out the boxes on the compensation claim form. It’s not there to make legal arguments, or analyze whether a decision should be challenged.”

With hundreds of pages’ worth of submissions and supporting evidence, Ferguson told open Democracy case files could run over hundreds of pages, meaning it takes him and his team 50 to 60 hours to put a case together. For him, the idea that compensation claimants are given up to three hours with a non-legally qualified digital adviser is a “joke”.

“We’re not talking about an inconvenience here – we’re talking about people whose lives have been destroyed,” he said.

Marcus* and his partner Evelyn* were living in the UK after arriving from St Lucia in the 1960s. They settled into their new home – Marcus worked, studied, and even bought a house in 1974. When he went to renew his passport in 1984, he was told that since St Lucia had become independent in 1979, he was no longer entitled to a british one.

Marcus lost his job after his employer asked for proof of ID and status in the UK. He wasn’t able to provide this because his passport renewal had been denied. He could no longer afford to keep up with mortgage repayments and was forced to sell his house. He moved with his three children back to St Lucia. His wife, Evelyn, followed shortly afterwards.

As their children were born in the UK, this made them British citizens. In the 1990s, they returned so they could attend university. At various points, both parents tried to join their children in the UK, but were only granted tourist visas. Marcus and Evelyn weren’t given permanent status until 2018, when the Windrush crisis broke.

“That’s just an example of how the harm manifests itself in terms of separation, where families have had to move, and then when trying to move back to the UK, they’ve also been denied their settled status,” Ferguson added.

Despite being stripped of the life that they knew, the couple still have no access to legal aid to bring their Windrush compensation cases forward.

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