The trustees of Refugee and Migrant Justice (RMJ) have signed papers to place the charity into administration as a result of a cashflow problem created by the late payment of legal aid by the government.
The decision to wind up the charity has come despite a public campaign in which leading figures including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty and Ken Loach, the film director, called on the government to save the charity. Major charities, such as Amnesty International, Mind and Barnardo’s, also joined the campaign and wrote to ministers on RMJ’s behalf.
In an open letter to the Justice and Home Secretaries they warned: “It would be a tragedy if RMJ were allowed to go under.”
Paul Gray, chair of RMJ said: “It is with great sadness that RMJ’s trustees took the decision to put RMJ into administration. It is a brilliant charity which has a justifiable high reputation for the quality of support it gives and we are very concerned about the position of our 10,000 clients and of our dedicated and highly professional staff.”
The cashflow problems stem from a change made by the previous government to the way it paid the legal aid fees incurred by lawyers acting on behalf of RMJ clients. Instead of paying up at the end of each court hearing, the Legal Services Commission decided to only pay up once each case is finally concluded, after all appeals have been exhausted. Sometimes this takes two years or more, and RMJ could not continue to plug this funding gap forever.
The government has committed to review the legal aid system but has declined to change the payment system at this point.
Major concerns have been raised by refugee experts about the effect of RMJ having to close. Roland Schilling, the United Nations Refugee Agency’s UK representative, said: “The UN Refugee Agency has raised its deep concern to the government if legal aid to the persons in need of protection is not anymore provided by specialised and highly professional organisations like RMJ. A discontinuation of these services would severely damage the effectiveness and fairness of the asylum system in the country.”
The administrators, BDO, will assume responsible for managing the organisation.