In the 2013-2014 academic year, following the success of its existing link with award winning legal aid firm Turpin & Miller, Oxford Legal Assistance (‘OLA’) has engaged in a new partnership programme with Bail for Immigration Detainees (‘BID’). The programme provides students with the opportunity to undertake pro bono work at the organisation’s Oxford office, located on Cowley Road.
BID is a charity that works with aslyum seekers and immigrants in order to secure their release from detention in immigration removal centres across the UK. Removal centres are used by the Border Agency to house people without the legal right to remain in the UK while proceedings for deportation orders or consideration of asylum applications are underway. Although the use of removal centres is stated to be a temporary measure, many people find themselves detained for months and, in some cases, even years. The aim of the organisation’s work is therefore to promote the right to liberty of the detainees and to protect particularly vulnerable removal centre residents – including victims of torture and trafficking, or families with children.
The way BID goes about this is to provide free information to detainees detailing the methods to make immigration bail applications in court, and then helping them to prepare and present such applications. The primary role of OLA’s volunteers is to provide assistance in these tasks – this can involve telephoning detainees in order to gain relevant information regarding their situations, communicating with solicitors for case preparation, or assisting with the drafting of next steps documents for barristers engaged on a pro bono basis to represent the detainees before a judge.
In terms of its capacity to provide an insight into the practical workings of the legal process all the way from basic fact-finding up to preparation for courtroom advocacy, the experience is an eye-opening one. In addition, the work provides a stimulating combination of human interest and legal principle – conversations with detainees about their struggles and concerns casting a fresh and emotive light on a process that demands a rigourous adherence to logical argument and structured submissions. For those with a particular interest in human rights, the work allows the unease with which the immigration detention regime sits within a longstanding culture of rights protection to become apparent in fascinating (and, in many ways, disturbing) terms.
For those hoping to go into legal practice in any area, however, the opportunity to gain valuable experience in this environment is not one to be passed up.