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It is important to emphasise that magistrates courts are locally managed services. Each of the 22 magistrates courts committees in the Greater London area is primarily responsible for the use of the courtroom accommodation in their individual area. However, we are currently examining ways of using spare capacity in the magistrates courts to assist in bail hearings in detention cases. I should emphasise that the key restraint in reducing further the backlog of immigration and asylum appeals is not accommodation, but the shortage of adjudicators, which we are tackling vigorously.
As my hon. Friend is aware, I have asked this question because the suggestion was in the recent review of immigration appeals paper. I am concerned to find out what progress has been made in dealing with the large backlog which means that these cases are delayed.
The Government have put a great deal of effort into reducing the backlog of appeals. I can assist my hon. Friend by setting out the relevant statistics. In July 1997, the figure for outstanding appeals by adjudicators was 34,907 and by September 1998 that had been reduced to 22,298. We anticipate that by the end of March 1999, that figure will have been reduced again to some 16,000 cases.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, such is the backlog of immigration matters, for all sorts of different and understandable reasons, the law is being brought into disrepute? Will he examine the method used in Holland for dealing with illegal immigrants where adjudicators are on the spot the whole time so that cases can be dealt with immediately and do not block up the magistrates courts?
I do not accept that the law has been brought into disrepute. However, the appeals process is currently under review and I would welcome the hon. Gentleman's suggestions for other ways in which these matters may be resolved more effectively and, certainly, more speedily.
I welcome the Minister's actions so far in dealing with the backlog. However, does he accept that one way of dealing with the backlog—which clearly causes enormous distress to applicants—is to appoint more adjudicators? What action is he taking to ensure that more adjudicators are appointed to deal with the ever-increasing number of cases?
The Government have appointed new adjudicators since our election in May 1997. There are currently 34 full-time adjudicators and 212 part-time adjudicators. A recent recruitment board for full-time appointments is expected to result in the appointment of at least eight new adjudicators. A board for part-time appointments is due to commence shortly, to which 77 candidates have been called to interview. We shall continue to increase the number of adjudicators with a view to reducing the backlog.