Legal assistance for review of detention

United Kingdom


Refugee Council

Access to legal assistance is subject to the same means test as for immigration and asylum legal aid generally. Detention centres provide legal surgeries run by legal aid providers who have exclusive contracts with the Legal Aid Agency to do immigration and asylum work in detention centres (IRCs). Detainees cannot obtain legal aid to instruct a lawyer other than those with a contract for that centre. Delays in getting an appointment at a legal surgery mean that in practice they may face removal before they can obtain an appointment, although some centres operate a priority system for people who have removal directions. The Independent Monitoring Board at Harmondsworth immigration removal centre records a wait of 3 weeks for a legal appointment,1 and BID’s survey showed that 69% had to wait more than a week.2 Notice of removal may be as short as 72 hours, and five days is common. In one of the more recent inspections of an IRC, The Verne, the inspectorate found that ‘Many detainees did not have legal representation and could wait up to 10 days for a legal surgery appointment’.3

The All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Detention recorded a lot of discontent and distress from detainees about the quality of representation in detention and being left without information.4

Discussions with lawyers are held in private. Lawyers can contact their clients by mobile phone or fax, or they may also be able to speak to them on the IRC’s phone, or leave a message for them.

  • 1. Independent Monitoring Board, Harmondsworth IRC, Annual Report, 2011, available at:
  • 2. Bail for Immigration Detainees, Immigration Detainees’ Experiences of Getting Legal Advice Across the UK Detention estate: summary results for surveys 1 – 6, 2013.
  • 3. Report on an unannounced inspection of The Verne Immigration Removal Centre, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons 2 – 13 March 2015, 13.
  • 4. The APPG Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom, 46.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti