A rapid decline in the number of immigration tribunal judges could herald a crisis, despite the government’s insistence that there is sufficient capacity to deal with a growing backlog of work.
Government figures show that in 2012 there were 347 fee-paid and 132 salaried judges in the first-tier tribunal. In 2016 there were only 242 fee-paid and 77 salaried. In the upper tribunal, a headcount of 40 fee-paid and 42 salaried judges in 2012 declined to 35 fee-paid and 42 salaried last year.
Official figures show there were 62,903 outstanding cases in the first-tier tribunal at the end of the third quarter last year, up 20% on the same period in 2015. The age of a case at disposal was 48 weeks between July and September 2016, 15 weeks longer than the same period in 2015.
Justice minister Sir Oliver Heald said the ministry was doing everything it can ‘to avoid unnecessary delay’ in the immigration and asylum tribunal.
Responding to a parliamentary question by Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester East, Heald said the government has provided an additional 4,950 tribunal sitting days for this financial year to ensure current caseloads do not increase. ‘We are keeping performance under close review and are confident there is sufficient capacity to deal with the number of appeals we expect to receive,’ he added.
However, solicitor Christopher Cole, a member of the Law Society’s immigration law committee, highlighted problems experienced by practitioners over the past six to 12 months due to a lack of judges.
Cole, partner and head of immigration at Rotherham firm Parker Rhodes Hickmotts, said: ‘The most common and frustrating issue has been the late adjourning of hearings due to a lack of judiciary. Delays in the first-tier tribunal (immigration and asylum chamber) have been pretty extreme over the last 18 months or so.’
The resident judge in the first-tier tribunal receives a salary of £133,506. Fee-paid immigration judges in the first-tier tribunal are paid £486.82 per day or £505 including a London weighting fee. Other members are paid £276.74. In the upper tribunal, fee-paid judges receive £606.85.
According to a judicial attitudes survey published this month, a quarter of first-tier tribunal judges thought their case workload over the past 12 months was ‘too high’.