Legal assistance for review of detention

United Kingdom

Country Report: Legal assistance for review of detention Last updated: 24/04/24


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Detention centres provide legal surgeries run by different legal aid providers who have exclusive contracts with the Legal Aid Agency to do immigration and asylum work in IRC. The appointment is for 30 minutes and no financial assessment of the detainee is needed for them to access this initial appointment, but if the legal representative takes their case on then a means assessment must be carried out as for all other legal aid work.[1] 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. It is not unusual for it to take weeks to get an appointment.[2] Notice of removal may be as short as 72 hours, and five days is common.

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. Interpreters are used where needed, usually via a telephone interpreting service.[3]

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.[4] Provision for a half hour of free advice was put in place in November 2021[5].

HMIP conducted a thematic report into the treatment and experience of immigration detainees held in prisons[6] finding disparities including access to legal advice, progression of the case, leading to prolonged periods of detention, and safeguarding.



[1] Legal Aid 2018 Standard Civil Contract Specification: Category Specific Rules Immigration and Asylum, paragraphs 8.157 and 8.160, available at:  

[2] BID, Summer Legal Advice Survey, August 2023, available at:

[3] Practice-based observation by the expert, January 2024.

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

[5] UK government, ‘Civil news: immigration and asylum advice in prisons’, 1 November 2021, available at:  

[6] 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