In the UK, UNHCR provides guidance on refugee and asylum law and policy to the UK government, legal practitioners, non-governmental organisations and many others. Where appropriate UNHCR takes up cases and raises issues of concern with our counterparts in the UK government. We intervene in court proceedings, which are precedent-setting for the international protection of refugees. We also provide training on a range of issues to those working with asylum-seekers and refugees.
Legal Interventions in Precedent-Setting Cases
UNHCR is able to intervene in select asylum cases, and we are always interested to hear from legal representatives about forthcoming cases raising matters of particular concern that are precedent-setting on significant issues of asylum and refugee law. Interventions by UNHCR may take the form of letters of advice or opinion for use at any stage of the asylum process. In exceptional circumstances, UNHCR may make direct contact about an individual case with our counterparts in the Home Office or the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. In appropriate cases, UNHCR may consider applying to act as an intervener.
UNHCR's role when intervening in individual cases is to provide a guiding framework, with refugee protection at the heart, through advice on questions of principle, and through the provision of UNHCR papers on country situations and on particular topics. We hope that such interventions provide a framework of guidance or advice to the court, in which legal representatives can apply their own skill and experience to ensure that international protection is granted to those who need it.
Why do we intervene in such cases?
UNHCR recognises the important role played by UK courts in the development of international refugee law. UNHCR believes that its intervention in national courts is a powerful means of asserting a position on refugee protection and contributing to the development of international refugee law. Due to limited resources, UNHCR's interventions have focussed on higher level court proceedings, due to the precedent-setting nature of the decisions.
Please note that all cases identified by the Legal Protection Unit as suitable for UNHCR intervention must be cleared by our Headquarters in Geneva.
Timing: All requests for a UNHCR advisory opinion or for a legal intervention, should reach the office at the earliest opportunity and certainly no later than 4 weeks prior to the court hearing. Requests received after this point cannot be guaranteed a response within time.
Guidance on Refugee and Asylum Law and Policy
The Legal Protection Unit provides advice on the application of international refugee law in fulfilment of UNHCR's global mandate to promote the conclusion and ratification of international conventions for the protection of refugees, supervising their application and proposing amendments thereto to a wide range of interlocutors. This may be in response to a specific request or announcement or it may follow the referral of an issue or case by a legal representative and / or a non-governmental organisation.
UNHCR London is frequently consulted on the introduction of new policies by the Home Office, as well as numerous other enquiries. Previous guidance from UNHCR's London office has included advice on statelessness, exclusion, resettlement, returns, integration, family reunification, gender guidelines, treatment of unaccompanied children, Article 31 of the 1951 Convention, detention of asylum seekers, country information and policy.
UNHCR is also represented at a large number of asylum stakeholder and government department meetings.
UNHCR London is not able to provide legal representation or advice to individuals in relation to UK law and practice, and UNHCR does not make refugee status determinations in the United Kingdom. UNHCR London therefore tries to re-direct such queries to a more appropriate agency such as private solicitors or specialised agencies - many of whom may provide their services free of charge, under the Legal Aid scheme. Once the individual has been referred to a suitable agency, their caseworker or lawyer is welcome to approach UNHCR London should there be an outstanding issue in which UNHCR's input may be appropriate.
Contacting the Legal Protection Unit
Members of the Legal Protection Unit can be contacted by telephone through the switchboard - 020 7759 8090 (Option 1). The Unit's telephone lines are open between 9am and 5.30pm (Monday-Thursday) and 9am and 3pm (Friday). The Legal Protection Unit can also be contacted at any time via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or facsimile on 020 7759 8119.