Clause 24 - Accelerated detained appeals

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 26th October 2021.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:30 pm, 26th October 2021

I beg to move amendment 45, in clause 24, page 28, leave out lines 9 to 11.

This amendment would remove the requirement for detainees to give their notice of appeal within 5 working days.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 46, in clause 24, page 28, line 22, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would require (rather than merely empower) the Tribunal or the Upper Tribunal to cease to treat cases as accelerated detained appeals where it is in the interests of justice to do so.

Clause stand part.

Government new clause 7—Accelerated detained appeals.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:45 pm, 26th October 2021

Clause 24 establishes a system of fast-track appeals for those in detention. The explanatory notes state that in 2019-20 it took almost 12 weeks on average for detained immigration appeals to progress from receipt in the first tier tribunal through to disposal, and the aim is for faster decisions in certain cases

“to allow appellants to be released or removed more quickly”.

That sounds almost benign, and who does not want appeals to take place as quickly as possible? But the key issue is whether they can be decided fairly within the timeframe set down in the clause. We are talking not about trying to take three or four weeks off the average time, but about reducing it by almost three quarters. Clearly, the Government believe that the tribunal is wasting a lot of time but I do not see any evidence for that, and I do not see any analysis of why that 12-week average exists.

Five days is an incredibly short timeframe in which to launch an appeal, particularly when a person is detained in an immigration detention facility, often in the middle of nowhere, and where the chances of securing proper legal advice and consultation in that time are incredibly slim. Amendment 45 would delete that requirement.

Amendment 46 would also mean that the tribunal would be required to stop treating an appeal as an accelerated appeal if it was in the interests of justice to do so. Again it is not clear to us why the tribunal should be empowered to continue an accelerated appeal when that is not in the interests of justice. More generally, the clause gives rise to the question of why the Secretary of State should have any say in which appeals can be disposed of expeditiously. Why is she not required just to assess the fairness of a case or give consideration to how complex a case is? Why not leave the tribunal to make those determinations? It would be far better placed to make that assessment.

As Members will know, in 2015 the Court of Appeal found similar rules to be unlawful and held that they created a system in which asylum and human rights appeals were disposed of too quickly to be fair. The Court said that the timetable was

“so tight that it is inevitable that a significant number of appellants will be denied a fair opportunity to present their cases”.

It also said that the policy did not appreciate the problems faced by legal representation obtaining instructions in such cases or the complexity or difficulty of many asylum appeals, and the gravity of the issues raised by them. I have absolutely no reason to think that the proposed policy is any better than that one.

The Government now intend to replace the entire clause with new clause 7, principally it seems to expand the categories of appeal that could be subject to the proposed procedure. My party opposes that expansion and opposes the clause.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

We oppose the clause. It seeks the return of the detained fast-track system and to recreate it in primary legislation. The clause imposes a duty on the tribunal procedure rules committee to make rules for an accelerated timeframe for certain appeals made from detention that are considered suitable for consideration within that timeframe.

In the explanatory notes, an accelerated detained appeal is defined as being

“an appeal brought by an appellant who…received a refusal of their asylum claim while in detention…remains in detention under a relevant detention provision…is appealing a decision which was certified by the Secretary of State as suitable for an accelerated detained appeal”.

That system previously existed but was found to be illegal by the High Court in a landmark case brought by Detention Action. The system was found to be unfair as asylum and human rights appeals were disposed of too quickly to be fair. The Court of Appeal described the timetable for such appeals as

“so tight that it is inevitable that a significant number of appellants will be denied a fair opportunity to present their cases”.

It also emphasised, perhaps instructively for this Committee, that speed and efficiency must not trump justice and fairness—something of a feature of part 2 of the Bill. Indeed, hundreds if not thousands of cases have had to be reconsidered by the Home Office or the tribunal because they were unfairly rushed through the process that the Government now seek to recreate. Those cases include survivors of trafficking and torture and other individuals who, on the basis of a rushed and unfair procedure, will have been removed to places where they fear persecution or are separated from their families. There was no adequate system for ensuring that such people were removed from the fast track and given a fair opportunity to present their claims.

Despite that background, the Bill aims to create this unjust and ineffective procedure by reintroducing the detained fast-track process through this clause. It will put that same system, which was deemed unlawful in 2015, on a statutory footing, which will insulate it against future legal challenges.

The clause provides for the Secretary of State to certify a decision if she considers that an appeal would be disposed of expeditiously. It requires the tribunal procedure committee to introduce the following time limits: a notice of appeal must be lodged no later than five working days after the decision was received; the tribunal must make a decision no later than 25 days after the appeal date; and an application for permission to appeal to the upper tribunal must be determined by the first-tier tribunal not later than 20 working days after the applicant was given notice of the tribunal’s decision.

The clause would deny access to justice. First, five days is insufficient to prepare an appeal against a negative decision, particularly where the individual is detained and where their access to legal advice is poor and an individual’s wellbeing may be affected by their detention. For those detained in prison, the situation is even worse. For example, in a case in February of this year, the High Court declared the lack of legal aid immigration advice for people held under immigration powers to be unlawful. More widely, Home Office decision making is frequently incorrect or unlawful. As we know, half of all appeals against immigration decisions were successful in the year leading up to June 2019. It is therefore vital that people are able to effectively challenge decisions through the courts.

The detained fast track is unjust. It is also unnecessary. As the Public Law Project and Justice have pointed out, the tribunal has adequate case management powers to deal with appeals expeditiously in appropriate cases and already prioritises detained cases. The Home Secretary should not be trying to force the hand of the independent tribunal procedures committee to stack the cards in her favour in appeals against her decisions. The Bill does not learn the lessons of the past and seeks to resurrect an unworkable system of accelerated detained appeals. The clause proposes that the appeals process be fast-tracked. I am very worried that provisions in part 2 of the Bill will therefore disadvantage the most vulnerable.

By allowing the Home Secretary to accelerate appeals when she thinks they would be disposed of expeditiously, the clause is clearly unjust. Once again, it also seems to violate the refugee convention. As my hon. Friend Matt Western said on Second Reading:

“It is more than regrettable that the convention appears now to be held in such little regard by this Government.”—[Official Report, 19 July 2021; Vol. 699, c. 769.]

For those reasons, we will oppose that the clause stand part.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I understand the motivation behind amendment 45. However, the Government oppose the amendment, as it is contrary to our policy intention and would undermine the effective working of the accelerated detained appeals process.

The period of five working days strikes the right balance, achieving both speed and fairness. The detained fast-track rules put in place in 2003 and 2005 allowed only two days to appeal. The 2014 rules set the same time limit. The current procedure rules allow a non-detained migrant 14 days to lodge their appeal against a refusal decision.

On amendment 46, I can assure hon. Members that it is not necessary, as the Bill already achieves the objective sought. The Government’s aim is to ensure that cases only remain in the ADA where it is in the interests of justice for them to do so. The consideration of what is in the interests of justice is a matter of judicial discretion. Where a judge decides that it is not in the interests of justice to keep a case in the ADA process, we would expect that they would use their discretion to remove the case. The current wording of the Bill—“may” rather than “must”—is consistent with the drafting of the rules that govern all appeals considered in the immigration and asylum chamber.

For these reasons, I invite the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate to withdraw the amendments. On the detained fast track and wider points about the Government’s intentions, although the courts upheld the principle of an accelerated process for appeals made in detention, we have considered the legal challenges to the detained fast track carefully. We are confident that the new accelerated detained appeals route will ensure fairness as well as improving speed. All Home Office decisions to detain are made in accordance with the adults at risk in detention policy and reviewed by the independent detention gatekeeper. Changes made to the screening process, drawing on lessons learned, will enable us to identify appellants who are unsuitable for the accelerated detained appeals route at the earliest opportunity. Suitability will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and the tribunal will have the power to transfer a case out of the accelerated route if it considers that that is in the interests of justice to do so.

The timescales proposed for the accelerated route are longer than under the previous detained fast track. Appellants will have more time to seek legal advice and prepare their case. We are confident that the new route will provide sufficient opportunity to access legal advice. I am also conscious that Members are interested in what happens in the eventuality that a migrant misses the deadline to appeal a refusal decision. Provided that there are no other barriers to return, removal will be arranged. It is open to a migrant and/or their legal representatives to submit an appeal after the deadline and ask a judge to extend the time and admit the appeal late.

On new clause 7, the Government are committed to making the asylum appeals system faster, while maintaining fairness, ensuring access to justice and upholding the rule of law. In particular, it is right that appeals made from detention should be dealt with quickly, so that people are not deprived of their liberty for longer than is necessary. New clause 7 sets out a duty on the tribunal procedure committee to make rules for the provision of an accelerated detained appeals route. That will establish a fixed maximum timeframe for determining specific appeals brought while an individual is detained.

Currently, all immigration and asylum appeals are subject to the same procedure rules. Appeals involving detained appellants are prioritised by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service but there are no set timeframes. It often takes months for detained appeals to be determined, resulting in people being released from detention before their appeals are concluded.

Changes to procedure rules are subject to the tribunal procedure committee’s statutory consultation requirements and procedures. However, the Government’s intent is to ensure that straightforward appeals from detention are determined more quickly. Under a detained accelerated process all appellants will benefit from a quicker final determination of their immigration status, spending less time in limbo, and getting the certainty they need to move forward with their lives sooner.

Those whose appeals are successful will have their leave to remain confirmed earlier than if the standard procedure rules had been followed. Meanwhile those with no right to remain will be removed more quickly, as they can be detained throughout the process, which reduces the risk of absconding.

The courts have been clear in upholding the principle that an accelerated process for asylum seekers while detained, operated within certain safeguards, is entirely legal. I made that point earlier. We have considered the legal challenges to the previous detained fast track carefully and we are confident that the new accelerated detained appeals route will ensure fairness as well as improving speed. We will ensure, through regulations and guidance, that only suitable cases will be allocated to the accelerated route. Cases will be assessed for whether they are likely to be able to be decided fairly within the shorter timeframe, and individuals will be screened for vulnerability and other factors that may impact their ability to engage fairly with an accelerated process.

As an additional safeguard, the clause makes it clear that the tribunal can decide to remove cases from the accelerated route if it considers it is in the interests of justice to do so. The new accelerated detained appeals route will contribute significantly to the timeliness with which appeals are decided for those in immigration detention. It will allow us to swiftly remove from the country people found not to need protection, while those with valid claims can be released from detention more quickly.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I still have serious concerns about the provisions in the clause, particularly the short timeframe of five days to launch an appeal, and particularly when it could be the Secretary of State who has decided somebody has to go through that process. If she gets that decision wrong, by the time there is any ability to apply to the tribunal to move away from the fast-track process, it could be too late. In that case, a removal attempt will have been made, and a vulnerable person who was unable to contact a solicitor in time is completely without any chance of rectifying what the Secretary of State has done.

I maintain my opposition to what is proposed. I think that the safeguards fall way short, but I do not see any point in putting my amendment to a vote, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

I will now put the question that clause 24 stand part. I understand that the Government will vote no.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Assistant Whip, The Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury

I thought we were voting for clause 24 to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

As Chair, I do not wish to stop you voting as you wish to. I understand that the Government have indicated that they would vote to leave out the clause.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

To be clear, we are seeking to remove clause 24 and replace it with new clause 7.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

If that is the Government’s intention, far be it from me to tell them what to do.

Clause 24 disagreed to.