ECRE and the ELENA Network have published a new Legal Note on asylum applicants’ access to legal aid in Europe. The note outlines relevant European legislation and jurisprudence from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as well as international legal standards. It identifies the main obstacles faced by asylum applicants in relation to legal aid, while also identifying good practices at the national level.
Access to quality legal aid is an indispensable feature of a fair asylum system and safeguard against erroneous decisions and arbitrariness. ECRE/ELENA firmly believes that the provision of legal aid is crucial to safeguard the fundamental rights of people applying for asylum and is beneficial to both applicants/beneficiaries of international protection and asylum authorities. Access to legal aid at an early stage of the asylum process not only enhances the fairness and efficiency of the procedure, it may also reduce financial costs by strengthening the quality of decisions with the potential reduction of appeal rates. Importantly, it enables asylum applicants to fully understand their rights and obligations during the procedure and helps to establish trust in the asylum authorities, which is essential to ensure quality and efficiency in decision-making.
Yet, recent developments in Europe point to a worrying trend of measures undermining asylum applicants’ access to legal aid. Even in countries where legal aid is available in general and where good practices can be identified, obstacles regarding the quality, funding or availability of legal aid for asylum applicants are increasingly reported.
For that reason, ECRE/ELENA call on European states to ensure that legal aid is provided to all asylum applicants without sufficient means, at all stages of the asylum procedure and regardless of the specific asylum procedures that they may fall under.