Correspondence between government Minister David Lammy and Black Women's Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape published in The Guardian Letters page

Erosion of asylum rights
Monday July 12, 2004, The Guardian, Letters

Rape survivors are vulnerable and find it difficult, often impossible, to speak about the violence they have suffered. The law acknowledges this, granting rape victims anonymity. Women who have been raped who seek asylum in Britain are even more vulnerable. Deeply traumatised, they face the additional and frightening hurdle of being interviewed by officials in totally unfamiliar surroundings and often through translation. Yet according to David Lammy, the minister for constitutional affairs, the government is not "persuaded that victim of rape or torture, however defined, should be regarded as being in a category of vulnerable people".

The asylum bill will deny rape victims the right to legal aid and therefore full representation. Like Andrew Phillips, who opposed this sexism in the Lords, we find this an "astonishing proposition". It is a malevolent and life-threatening erosion of rape victims' rights.

Sian Evans
Women Against Rape
Cristel Amiss
Black Women's Rape Action Project
Ian Johnston
Director, British Association of Social Workers
Sheila Kitzinger
Ian Macdonald QC
and 16 others

Full list of signatures:
Siân Evans, Women Against Rape
Cristel Amiss, Black Women’s Rape Action Project
Niki Adams, Legal Action for Women
Madeleine Andrews, Minister of Harlesden Methodist Church
Josephine Apira, Ugandan refugee
Sue Conlan & Natalia Garcia, Tyndallwoods solicitors
Dee Coombes, Liverpool Committee Against the Destitution of Asylum Seekers
Adelina O. Duenas, United Workers Association
Dr Jonathan Fluxman
Sarah Kajumba, All African Women’s Group
Sheila Kitzinger, natural childbirth expert
Ian Macdonald QC, 2 Garden Court
Nushra Mapstone & Ian Johnston (Director), British Association of Social Workers
Ben Martin, Payday, a network of men
Nelissa Mendy, Community Activist
Agnes Nakigude, SOS Immigration Group
Reverend Paul Nicolson (chair) Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
Liz Norman, Punatar & Co Solicitors
Rasjidah St John, Information Service on Incest & Child Sexual Abuse
Peter Saunders, founder The National Association for People Abused in Childhood

Published on the same page:
Today MPs have their first and last opportunity to debate the raft of new amendments to the asylum and immigration bill, with just five hours' debate before the measures get passed into law. Under these new measures, people wishing to marry non-European Economic Area foreign nationals will have to attend one of 50 new special marriage registrars for a licence and may have to ask the home secretary for permission to marry in the UK at a cost of up to £200.

These measures are a first for an EU country. The Joint Committee for Human Rights has already advised that, given the exemption for Church of England marriages, the measures may discriminate on religious grounds, as well as contravening the right to marry and found a family enshrined in international law.

Despite this advice, and opposition in the Lords, the government is due to press ahead with these measures. They will discriminate against people of minority faiths and ethnic groups, as well as impinging on the rights of UK nationals and others legally settled here to marry whom they wish in the UK. The government should reconsider these ill-conceived measures and at least ensure they are given adequate scrutiny by MPs.
Habib Rahman
Chief Executive, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants

Legal aid is still available

Thursday July 15, 2004, The Guardian, Letters
I am concerned that the comments quoted from my letter to Andrew Phillips may have been taken out of context (Letters, July 12). It is not the case that the asylum and immigration bill will deny legal aid for rape victims who are seeking asylum. Legal aid will continue to be available to people seeking asylum, subject to the usual rules.

What has changed is the provision of funding for legal representatives to be present at initial interviews with the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. These changes were made because, in most cases, it was not a solicitor who was present. The interviews are a non-adversarial, fact-finding process and the representative is not usually able to intervene; their role is often simply that of a note-taker. For that reason, it has been accepted practice for many years that a clerk from the clients' legal advisers is present at substantive interviews with IND officials, rather than a solicitor.

But I recognised that there were important exceptions. For example, unaccompanied minors, fast-track applicants and those suffering from a recognised mental incapacity (including where this is as a consequence of rape) can have an adviser. The IND protocol confirms that any other person may be allowed to accompany an applicant to an interview for medical or emotional support at the discretion of the interviewing officers. The regulations introducing these changes were fully debated by parliament.

David Lammy MP
Department of Constitutional Affairs

Women respond to David Lammy
Friday July 16, 2004, The Guardian, Letters

David Lammy claims legal aid is still available to asylum seekers “subject to the usual rules.” In fact recent changes have so dramatically reduced legal aid that it is impossible for asylum claims to be thoroughly prepared or presented. And he neglects to address our alarm that he insists that rape (and other torture) victims are no longer to be “regarded as being in a category of vulnerable people”. Instead he makes the astonishing claim that rape survivors don‘t need lawyers when they attend asylum interviews because these are “non-adversarial”. (Letters 12 July). No asylum seeker would agree: your life depends on convincing often hostile interviewers, often men, often in translation, who can use even minor “discrepancies” to undermine your credibility and deny your claim, and whose interview notes may record your distress, but not as clear indications that you are struggling to speak about intensely painful experiences. In these circumstances, women need more help and protection - not less.

It is well-known that the standard of much of the legal representation available to asylum seekers is shockingly low. This includes failing to intervene to protect women at their interviews. Mr Lammy uses this to deny all women legal aid - not better lawyers but fewer lawyers!

Cristel Amiss, Black Women’s Rape Action Project
Siân Evans, Women Against Rape