It can be very difficult to find a solicitor, especially if you are in prison or detention. This section provides information on how to go about this.
It also offers some basic guidance on getting free legal help, the sort of assistance your solicitor should provide, and how to complain if you aren't satisfied with your legal representation.
Finding a solicitor
It is usually a good idea to look for a solicitor who is based close to your prison or detention centre: if you are getting free legal help through the legal aid scheme (see below), you should bear in mind that funding restrictions can mean that solicitors are unable to travel long distances.
Community Legal Advice can give you details of immigration solicitors nearest to you. You can contact them on 0845 345 4345.
Additionally, you can search for immigration solicitors in your local area on the Law Society website, here. You can also contact us and we will tell you of any solicitors that we know of in your area.
Will I get free legal help?
The rules about access to free legal help are complicated. Here are some things that are considered before free help can be given:
- The amount of money that you have
- Whether you have already had help with your immigration problem
- If it is considered that the case stands a good chance of success - this is called the merits test
What can I expect the immigration solicitor to do?
Here are some basic things that a solicitor should do:
- A visit should be made to you in prison or detention to take instructions
- The solicitor should explain the law, practice, procedure, and a rough time scale involved in your case
- You should receive a letter outlining client care, any costs, initial instructions and the actions that the solicitor will take
- The limits to free legal help must be explained to you
- If you are not accessing free legal help through the legal aid scheme, you should be given an itemised invoice for any money you pay to your solicitor
- Written representations should be made to the Home Office if needed
How can I tell if I have a good solicitor?
Here are some things that a good solicitor will do:
- There will be no false hopes raised or unreasonable promises made about the outcome of your case
- The solicitor will maintain contact with you and be available for phone calls from you or your family
- When contacted the solicitor will be well informed about your case
- You will be encouraged to gather evidence to support your case and be involved in it at an early stage
- Copies of any letters and documents should be available to you on request
- You will be prepared for interviews even if the solicitor is unable to be present
- Interpreters will be used when needed and a check made that you are happy with the interpreter
What if I am thinking of changing my solicitor?
Think carefully before you decide to change solicitor. You should consider why you are unhappy with your current solicitor, and be sure that a new solicitor can make a difference to your case. You may be unhappy with the progress of your case, but it may not be the solicitor's fault. For instance, the UK Border Agency may be slow to reply, or may make decisions that you do not agree with - but these decisions may well be legal, and not the result of a solicitor's incompetence.
If you do decide that you want to change solicitor, and you are receiving free legal help through the legal aid scheme, it may be helpful for you to contact the Legal Services Commission to find out about the steps you need to take to do this. You can get further information by contacting the Customer Service department on 0300 200 20 20.
How can I complain?
If you are unhappy with the help being provided by your solicitor, then you should, in the first place, complain in writing to the practice manager at the firm.
However, if they do not respond to you within eight weeks, or if you are unhappy with the response you receive from them, then you can complain to the Legal Ombudsman. The Legal Ombudsman can be contacted:
By phone - 0300 555 0333
By post - PO Box 6806, Wolverhampton WV1 9WJ
By email - firstname.lastname@example.org