Extra judges drafted in to hear immigration appeals

08:03 by Editor · 0 Post a comment on AAWR

Asylum backlog delays other cases ‘for a year’

Extra judges are being drafted in to deal with more than 8,000 asylum and immigration appeals a year that threaten to overload the courts. 

The move is one of a series of steps to tackle the rise in appeals that have delayed other cases for a year or more. 

Lord Justice May, the President of the Queen’s Bench Division, told The Times that as well as drafting in extra High Court judges, senior barristers and circuit judges had been appointed to sit as deputy High Court judges, doubling the normal number of judges on this work to 15. 

The extra judicial manpower, which has already reduced delays, is an interim measure pending more drastic action by the Government. Ministers are expected to announce plans to move the bulk of immigration work out of the High Court altogether and into the new Tribunals Service, probably by next June.

That will lead to High Court judges being relieved of thousands of cases a year, which will instead be heard by senior immigration judges and only occasionally, where absolutely necessary, by a High Court judge. 

The rise in immigration work is partly because of the increased volume of immigration decisions made by the UK Border Agency, which is dealing with record numbers of applications. In 2006 it removed 16,330 failed asylum seekers, excluding dependants, and in 2007 deported more than 4,000 foreign prisoners. 

Another factor is the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004, which replaced a two-tier system of appeals with a single-tier system. The High Court therefore became the only place of appeal from a tribunal. 

The volume of cases reflects that people do not accept the decision of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and seek to have the decision reconsidered or apply for judicial review. 

A previous attempt by the Government to end the right of judicial review in immigration cases prompted widespread criticism and was thrown out of Parliament. 

But this move to devolve the work to the Tribunals Service could achieve the same result, although in a way that Lord Justice May, who took up his post in October, hopes will not be “controversial”. He said: “This was a problem in terms of work overload because important cases were not being heard promptly and we had delays of up to a year.” 

The emergency measures have been in place for a few months, with judges being found from other areas to tackle the backlog, he said. “It was a matter of concern but it has improved.” 

Between December 2007 and last month, the tally of cases waiting to be dealt with was cut by about 1,100 to 3,500, although that figure does not include hundreds not yet on the list as they are awaiting final decisions. 

Philip Havers, QC, a leading specialist in judicial review challenges, said: “I had one case that was waiting nearly two years, involving a challenge by a doctor to the Health Service Commission. The Administrative Court was completely snowed under by immigration and asylum cases.” 

But the delays have improved, he said. Now he was being offered a date next month or in February for a one-day case; or from February on for a two-day case. “That’s as it should be — it has completely transformed.” 

Steps would need to be taken to ensure that the problem did not arise again, he said. 

Four regional administrative courts will be set up next year in Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Although driven by a wish to move work outside London, it will also relieve immigration cases. Senior judges have described the pressure on the High Court’s Administrative Court, which hears the asylum and immigration cases, as “intense” and given warning that it is causing “unacceptable delays to the court’s work”. 

The appeals backlog is adding to pressure on the Court of Appeal. Sir Anthony Clarke, Master of the Rolls, has said that since 2005 the Court of Appeal has had a 77 per cent rise in applications to appeal in asylum and immigration cases. 

The increase has put “significant pressure” on the resources of the Court of Appeal both in terms of numbers of staff and lawyers who prepare the cases and in terms of judicial time, he said. 

It was “wholly disproportionate” for “such cases to be considered by the most senior judges who sit in the Court of Appeal,” Sir Anthony said. 

The Lord Chief Justice, then Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, first flagged up the “unacceptable delays” because of the pressure of asylum and immigration work in April. In 2007, the Administrative Court received 6,694 claims for judicial review – challenges to decisions by government or other public bodies. Asylum and immigration cases made up two thirds.  continues here

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