Clause 11 — Unification of appeal system

Part of Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, Etc.) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:04 pm on 1st March 2004.

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Photo of Mark Oaten Mark Oaten Shadow Secretary of State for Home Affairs, Home Affairs 6:04 pm, 1st March 2004

It is important to remove clause 11, because in it the Government propose to take away the ability to refer a tribunal's decision to a higher court. We argued about the principle for a long time in Committee. Whatever people's views may be on the Government's intentions about streamlining the tribunal system—there may be some merit in considering how the different elements could be brought together—there is widespread concern about removing the right of appeal to a higher court. We also have concerns about the proposal to give unprecedented powers to the president of the tribunal.

We will strongly defend the principle of having a tolerant society in relation to asylum and immigration, but the Bill goes even beyond that, attacking some important principles for justice as a whole. It upsets the constitutional checks and balances that we have had in this country for many years. By removing the right to go to a higher court, we could create numerous miscarriages of justice.

There is a miscomprehension about why the Government are seeking to do this. There is an assumption that any individual who wants to take a case to a higher court must be trying to abuse the system. There is very little acknowledgement from the Government that there may be genuine cases and genuine reasons why individuals would want and need to have their cases taken further. It is not all about allowing abuse or delaying tactics.

Since the Bill left Committee, we have had the report from the Constitutional Affairs Committee, which contains some powerful arguments for retaining the ability to refer to a higher court. The most compelling was in the conclusions, where it says:

"An ouster clause as extensive as the one suggested in the Bill is without precedent. As a matter of constitutional principle some form of higher judicial insight of lower Tribunals and executive decisions should be retained. This is particularly true when life and liberty may be at stake."

That is an extremely powerful quotation from a respected Committee, not only tackling the principle but pointing out that the Government are choosing to break it on such a critical issue as an individual's ability to stay here and not be returned to a life-threatening situation.