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HS: Big problems with legal services for asylum seekers

Helsingin Sanomat reports on Saturday that some lawyers receiving public money for representing asylum seekers have neglected their clients. The paper says it knows of at least twenty cases in which the asylum seekers access to justice was compromised because of their lawyer's actions.

Mielenosoittajia kyltteineen.
A protest against deportation of failed asylum seekers. Image: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva

There are big problems in Finland's system of legal aid for asylum seekers following a reform implemented in September last year, according to a Helsingin Sanomat report on Saturday.

The reform restricted payments for representation to public legal aid offices, which up to then had handled only a small proportion of asylum cases. Experienced asylum lawyers are at present only brought in to represent clients at the appeal stage.

According to the paper some lawyers are effectively cheating their clients by failing to return calls. According to the new guidelines, lawyers receiving public assistance can only attend official asylum interviews in exceptional cases.

Lawyers' presence important

That can be important, according to HS, in encouraging the asylum seeker to explain their situation fully to the authorities. Some might have had negative experiences with officials in their home countries, making them reluctant to speak up.

Problems with translations can also be more easily rectified if a lawyer is present, according to HS. The paper reports that this year more than a third of asylum decisions have been struck down by the administrative courts on appeal.

HS reports that one lawyer was the subject of a complaint from the Immigration Service after he appeared intoxicated and vomited during a meeting. He was later struck off by the Finnish Bar Association.

The paper says it's aware of at least twenty cases when lawyers' actions (or lack of them) have endangered an asylum seeker's access to justice.

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