Constitutional Affairs Committee

Press notice/ 07 of session 2003-04                26 February 2004


GOVERNMENT ASYLUM AND IMMIGRATION APPEALS REFORMS WIDE OF THE MARK - CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

Key government proposals aimed at reforming the asylum and immigration appeals process are today heavily criticised in a report by the Constitutional Affairs Committee.

The cross-party committee warns that plans to condense the appeals process into a one-tier system could lead to upheaval, confusion and ultimately more delays.  And the Committee expresses doubts over whether many of the measures are necessary.

MPs say that the government should instead be focusing on tackling key, longstanding problems which have a knock-on effect on appeal costs and numbers. In particular, they say the government must address "significant flaws in Home Office practice" at the initial decision-making stage as well as improving levels of Home Office representation. Evidence contained in the report shows that Home Office Presenting Officers failed to attend 40% of first tier cases. The Committee also points to problems in removing unsuccessful applicants.

The report also argues that it will be a long time before Home Office decision making is of sufficient quality to justify the government's proposed reductions in pre-decision legal aid.

The Committee recommends that appeal tiers must not be removed until it can be shown that there have been significant improvements in initial decision-making and that the rise in the number of successful first tier appeals has been reversed.

Plans to prevent courts' jurisdiction over asylum and immigration tribunal cases, and appeals to higher courts are also condemned by the Committee. The report says the restrictions are "without precedent" and that oversight must be retained both as a matter of constitutional principle and to ensure justice.

Commenting, Committee Chairman Rt Hon Alan Beith MP said:

"These measures fail to hit the mark. They do not tackle the underlying causes of delays. At present, poor quality decisions by the Home Office at the initial stages mean that many unnecessary appeals are being heard. Having one tier of appeal will do nothing to rectify this problem or for that matter, hasten the process of removals.

"It is premature to change a system which has only been operational for a matter of months, since the 2002 Act introduced a new system of statutory review to speed up the appeals process.

"The fact that judicial oversight would also be severely restricted under the government's plans is enormously problematic. Not only is a constitutional principle at stake, immigration judges would have to ensure that their decision was right first time in the absence of an adequate appeal mechanism.

"This could lead to unfair judgments not just in asylum cases but in a number of immigration cases as well, including routine family and student visitor applications.

"It is ironic that in a system where appellants are accused of delaying tactics, that it is the government which is the main cause for delay in immigration appeals."

There is support however, for government plans to rid the system of poor quality, back street immigration advisors. The Committee said it would welcome the implementation of robust rules and procedures to ensure that solicitors and other legal representatives are properly accredited.