Legal assistance for review of detention

United Kingdom

Country Report: Legal assistance for review of detention Last updated: 30/05/23


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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 IRC. 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. BID’s survey showed that 43% had to wait more than a week.[1] Notice of removal may be as short as 72 hours, and five days is common.

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.[2]

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.

In 2020 it was confirmed by the court that detainees held in prisons should have the same access to legal advice as those held in IRCs. This has been a long-standing issue and the government has been ordered to take action to ensure that it facilitates this. [3].

HMIP conducted a thematic report into the treatment and experience of immigration detainees held in prisons[4] finding disparities including access to legal advice, progression of the case, leading to prolonged periods of detention, and safeguarding.




[1] BID, Legal Advice survey Spring 2019, available at

[2]  The APPG Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom, 46.

[3]  SM, R (On the Application Of) v Bail for Immigration Detainees [2021] EWHC 418 (Admin), 25 February 2021, available at:

[4]  HMIP, ‘The experience of immigration detainees in prisons, 13 October 2022, available at:

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection