The judiciary has told the Gazette that coronavirus-related guidance for immigration tribunals is in the works amid concerns from several barristers’ chambers.
Members of the immigration bar say they are ‘increasingly concerned about the complete lack of guidance’ regarding hearings in the first-tier and upper tribunals of the immigration and asylum chamber in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The lord chief justice, and presidents of the family division and employment tribunal have already published guidance. A general pilot practice direction has been published for contingency arrangements in the first-tier and upper tribunals.
In a letter to Bar Council chair Amanda Pinto QC, the immigration practitioners say: ‘You may be aware that in the immigration context, most of the junior work is in the first-tier tribunal and the upper tribunal. Court buildings are very busy and listings are not staggered (appellants arrive for a 10am listing and wait until they are called). In our jurisdiction, more so than others, court users can be particularly vulnerable. They can have mental health issues, capacity issues and many require interpreters for court hearings. They are more likely not to understand government health advice. They are often extremely anxious about court hearings and will want to get things done, even if it means coming to court when they are elderly, immune-compromised or unwell.’
The letter states that both tiers of the chamber continue to sit with no additional measures being taken to ensure the safety of all court users and staff. ‘In the absence of any guidance in this jurisdiction, barristers are continuing to attend hearings and hearings are proceeding, even when they are not urgent. We have witnessed and had direct reports of tribunal cleaners self-isolating/going on strike, packed float lists requiring people to wait in crowded waiting rooms, busy court lists with no attempt to stagger listings, bundles being handed in and taken back, poor sanitary conditions, and a lack of handwashing facilities or antibacterial hand gel being made available.’
The barristers are concerned ‘that the system of immigration control is being prioritised over public health… Whilst writing this, we have become aware that all hearings in the upper tribunal are being de-listed as from Monday 23 March but there is no such uniformity of approach in the first-tier tribunal’.
The letter is signed by dozens of barristers, including several members of Garden Court Chambers, One Pump Court, Goldsmith Chambers, Lamb Building, Doughty Street Chambers.
The Law Society is updating its coronavirus advice regularly.