The Law Society has raised concerns over the government’s plans to ensure 'efficiency' in appeals against asylum detentions following a Court of Appeal judgment branding previous fast-track rules unfair and unjust.
Responding to a Ministry of Justice consultation on proposals to expedite appeals by detainees, Chancery Lane says the proposals will not meet thecourt’s concerns, nor will they strike the correct balance between speed and efficiency, and fairness and justice.
The Society says prescriptive expedited timescales will prevent conscientious lawyers from carrying out their professional duties and preparing cases effectively. They will also hinder judicial independence and flexibility in handling cases fairly.
All cases should have an automatic oral case management review with both parties in attendance, the Society adds.
Last year the Court of Appeal branded the government’s fast-track rules ’systemically unfair and unjust’.
In a foreword to the consultation paper, justice minister Sir Oliver Heald said the ministry had carefully considered the court’s concerns and ‘taken steps’ to address them in its fast-track proposals.
Heald said: ’We think our proposals would provide certainty to appellants, their families and legal representatives, with a clear timetable to ensure their cases are dealt with swiftly, minimising their time in detention.
’We also propose that further safeguards are built into the system through additional judicial oversight, to ensure a just, fair and final determination of these cases.’
The ministry proposes that 25 working days is sufficient time to dispose of an appeal in the First-Tier Tribunal, and a further 20 working days to determine whether an appellant has permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal.
Society president Robert Bourns said there was a real risk that speed might prejudice the integrity of the appeal process, ’for people who are often extremely vulnerable and anxious, who may have suffered a terrifying ordeal’.
He said 25 days imposed a ‘severely restricted timetable’ to determine often complex asylum appeals. 'As appellants would be detained during this time, they would have limited access to their solicitor, further undermining their ability to assert their rights,’ he added.
Along with hefty increases in immigration and asylum appeal fees, Bourns said the proposed so-called expedited asylum appeals process would ‘further strengthen the hand of the state against already vulnerable and fearful people’.
Quicker, fairer hearings can be more reliably achieved under existing rules with a better resourced appeal system, Chancery Lane suggests.