Immigration appeal hearings are being put back as far as next summer as the courts struggle to deal with a mounting workload.
The Gazette understands that HM Courts & Tribunals Service has drawn up a list of ‘priority’ cases to ensure the most urgent issues are dealt with. Cases involving children or detention are given top priority, with cases involving deportation and spouse or partner appeals from abroad given bottom billing.
In an email to practitioners sent last week, subsequently recalled but seen by the Gazette, a courts service chief admitted the delays were ‘unacceptable’.
Alison Harvey, legal director of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, said there is now a serious problem with substantive hearings being adjourned or postponed.
‘[Delays] result in distress and anxiety for clients, their family members and their employers,’ she said. ‘Graduated fixed fees for legal aid work in immigration cases, and the purses of clients paying privately, are put under pressure as lawyers must manage a case over an extended period.’
She noted that during the passage of the 2014 Immigration Act, which asked the courts to consider parliament’s view of ‘public interest’ when considering human rights claims, experts warned the changes were not properly analysed.
‘The delays seem to be part of the so-called ‘hostile environment’ the government is seeking to create,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately this extends to lawful migrants and their British families, who are in effect collateral damage.’Colin Yeo (pictured), a barrister at Garden Court Chambers, said one appeal lodged in January 2015 is not listed until June 2016.
A spokeswoman for HMCTS said the volume of new immigration and asylum chamber appeal received has fallen since July 2014, but that the ‘current flow’ of appeals has pushed listings back.
‘HMCTS is confident that we have sufficient capacity to deal with the number of appeals expected without increasing the current outstanding caseload.
‘We are preparing to put additional court time in place between April and July 2016 to make sure waiting times do not increase.’