Clause 43 - Removals: notice requirements

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 28th October 2021.

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Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office) 2:45 pm, 28th October 2021

I beg to move amendment 137, in clause 43, page 40, line 8, leave out subsections (3) to (5).

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Government new clause 28—Removals: notice requirements.

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

Clause 43 refers to no-notice removals and presents another problem of access to justice in the Bill. The clause aims to provide a statutory minimum period to enable individuals to access justice prior to removal and makes provisions for removing individuals following a failed departure without the need for a further notice period. It also includes the provision of written notices of intention to remove and departure details. It makes clear in statute the duty of the Home Office to give people a maximum of five working days’ notice when they are going to be removed from the UK.

For more than 10 years, the courts have recognised that that duty to give notice of removal is essential to accessing justice and the rule of law. As the Committee will acknowledge from our discussions on the Bill so far, it is vital that, when officials decide people should be removed, those people can access the courts to challenge that decision if they have a legitimate case.

However, while this clause sets out to provide access to justice, its effectiveness in doing so is very unclear. If the purpose of the notice period is, as stated, to enable those facing removal to access legal advice and the courts, it is essential that people served with a notice are able in practice to access that advice.

For example, the clause does not explain how the Government will ensure that access to legal advice will be provided. Asylum seekers can be highly vulnerable and may experience difficulties in effectively accessing legal advice and in understanding the legal intricacies of the asylum process, such as studying legal determinations or preparing submissions. As we know from our earlier scrutiny, clause 22 in part 2 provides for up to but no more than seven hours of legal aid for those served with a priority removal notice to receive advice on their immigration status and removal. We do not believe that provision goes far enough, but this clause is worse still. Unlike the provisions for priority removal notices, there is no specific provision in part 3 for ensuring that those who are served with notice of intention to remove can access legal advice within the notice period. The scheme therefore depends on existing legal aid provision, which has of course been decimated by the Conservatives for more than a decade. There are serious limitations in the availability of this provision for those both in detention and in the community.

Subsection (8) inserts new section 10A in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. It sets out potential scenarios where a further notice period is not required, which includes, for example, where the person was not removed on the date specified in the first notice due to matters reasonably beyond the control of the Secretary of State, such as adverse weather conditions, technical faults or transport delays, or disruption by the person to be removed.

Disruption is very broad of course, and can be interpreted on a very broad basis. It could be applied to a person refusing to leave their room in detention because they want to speak to their lawyer. The fine print also states that a new notice of intention to remove and a further notice period are also not required where the person was not removed on the date specified in the first notice as a result of “ongoing judicial review proceedings”.

That point is even more problematic. It applies where a planned removal does not proceed because of judicial review proceedings. If those proceedings are resolved in a way that means removal can proceed, the Home Office does not have to give any notice of removal if it is carried out within 21 days of the court’s decision.

As the Public Law Project and JUSTICE have pointed out, that decision could come weeks, months, or even years after the first notice of removal. Over time, the person’s circumstances could have changed fundamentally, important new evidence could have come to light or the situation in their own country might have changed dramatically. Such changes can happen virtually overnight, as recently witnessed in Afghanistan. Yet once the previous judicial review proceedings, which were potentially based on completely different facts and circumstances, are decided, a person can be removed without any notice or opportunity to raise these new circumstances with the Home Office or to access the court. If implemented, that could give rise to significant injustices.

I have one example to highlight this point—I thank the Public Law Project and JUSTICE for sharing this example. MLF is a Sri Lankan national whose asylum claim had been dismissed. During judicial review proceedings, in which he was unrepresented, he submitted further representations to the Home Office based on new evidence of the killing of three male relatives. That new evidence could not be considered in the judicial review proceedings because it post-dated the decision being challenged. The Home Office’s barrister informed him that the material would be forwarded to the relevant part of the Home Office for consideration.

MLF was subsequently served with a decision that refused to consider his fresh representations. He was subsequently removed to Sri Lanka on the same day without any notice or opportunity to access the court. In hiding in Sri Lanka, MLF applied for judicial review of his removal without notice. The Home Office conceded that he had been unlawfully removed and arranged for MLF to return to the UK. He has since been granted refugee status on the basis of evidence that post-dated his original appeal, including that which he had submitted during his judicial review proceedings.

If clause 43 was implemented in that case, it would have authorised the removal of MLF without notice. To avoid situations where people are wrongly removed and evidence is not considered properly, amendment 137 seeks to delete subsections (3) to (5) of new section 10A of the 1999 Act. That change would ensure that people are required to be given notice of removal directions and an opportunity to ask the court to issue an injunction preventing their removal while additional elements of their case are considered or in order to present fresh evidence to challenge an initial decision.

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

The shadow Minister has raised lots of sensible questions. I have one other brief question for the Minister, on new clause 28. He may not be able to answer it today, but I would like it clarified, if possible.

Proposed new section 10E to the 1999 Act that the new clause would add is supposed to apply when a person has applied for judicial review and the court has made a decision authorising the removal. To be clear, does that decision relate to the judicial review, or could it relate to any prior decision? That point will not affect lots of people, but it will be important. I appreciate that the Minister may not be able to answer immediately, but I hope we will get clarity on that in due course.

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

It may be easier if I explain that the power in amendment 137 already exists—albeit for 10 days—in published policy that is available on gov.uk. The purpose of putting the policy into statute is not to introduce a new power, as it already exists. Rather, we want to place it on a statutory basis to enable parliamentary scrutiny.

We can currently rearrange a migrant’s removal on another flight within 10 days of a failed removal without the need to give the migrant a fresh notice period. Clause 43 will increase the period to 21 days. Our recent experience during the pandemic has shown us that organising flights and complying with travel restrictions is difficult—dealing with self-isolation and rebooking escorts, for example. It is therefore entirely reasonable and sensible to allow the flexibility of 21 days to remove the migrant if the removal fails for reasons that are reasonably beyond the Secretary of State’s control.

It may be helpful to provide some examples to illustrate that point. A migrant has already had time to access justice and is due to be removed, but the flight is cancelled because of bad weather. The removal fails, but we manage to book a flight for the next day. We do not want to be in the position of having to wait another five working days before we can remove that migrant. As a second example, if a removal fails because the migrant is deliberately disruptive, that person should not be rewarded with another five working days in which they can try to defer their removal further. For those reasons, I ask the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate to withdraw his amendment.

To pick up on the point about access to legal aid during the notice period, migrants who are detained in immigration removal centres during the notice period will have access to the free legal advice surgery.

New clause 28 replaces clause 43 in its entirety. Our expert drafters have advised that it is better to do it that way because the text flows better and it is easier to navigate.

Unfortunately, migrants subject to enforced removal often wait until the last minute to challenge their removal from the UK. Consequently, flights are cancelled and removals are inevitably delayed at great cost to the taxpayer. We think it right that migrants subject to enforced removal must be allowed a reasonable opportunity to access justice. The sole purpose of the notice period is to give migrants time to seek legal advice. That is the rationale underpinning the clause.

Our current policy is complicated. Some migrants are given a minimum notice period of 72 hours, while others are given five working days. Calculating when the 72 hours start and end is confusing. They must include at least two working days, and the last 24 hours must include a working day. Evidently, there is scope for simplifying the process and making it consistent across the board. New clause 28 will do just that by placing in statute a single statutory minimum notice period of five working days for migrants. The new clause requires us to serve a written notice of intention to remove, setting out the notice period. Before the migrant can be removed, we must serve a written notice of departure details containing the date of removal.

A limited exception to the single statutory notice period relates to port cases. Migrants who are refused entry at the border can be removed within seven days without receiving a notice period. It is unlikely that they would have developed ties to the UK within that week.

The clause will create more clarity for Home Office staff, legal representatives and migrants. Migrants will know how long they have to access justice—in fact, some will have more time to access justice—and will therefore have fewer excuses to frustrate removal.

To be clear, we are not reintroducing removal windows, which were found to be unlawful by the Court of Appeal. Under the new clause, the migrant cannot be removed during the notice period. If the removal is cancelled or deferred because the migrant raises a fresh or further claim, a fresh notice period must be given before removal can proceed. Individuals will also be given a fresh notice period if there is a change to the previously notified destination or route, unless the place of transit is in a safe country.

The new clause provides that migrants can be removed within 21 days of a failed removal that was caused by their disruption. In such circumstances, a further notice period is not required because the migrant has already had sufficient opportunity to access justice, which is entirely reasonable when there are no significant changes to the migrant’s circumstances. That is in our current published policy but with a timescale of 10 days. Extending the time from 10 to 21 days will give us more time to rearrange removal.

The pandemic has highlighted the fact that organising escorts and rebooking flights cannot always be turned around quickly. Migrants frequently challenge their removal by way of judicial review, and of course that is their right. As per the clause, once a court decides that the migrant can be removed, we can remove them within 21 days without a fresh notice period. The migrant has already had time to access justice, and the removal decision has been subject to judicial scrutiny. There is no justification for further time.

The Committee has already debated priority removal notices, as set out in clauses 18 and 19, which are designed to give migrants time and enhanced legal aid provisions to access justice. In certain scenarios, the priority removal notice will function instead of a notice period. For example, a migrant receives a priority removal notice and then submits a human rights or protection claim. That claim is refused, and in time the migrant exhausts their appeal rights. We should then be able to remove them within 21 days without giving a new notice period. This will stop migrants having two bites of the cherry.

Extending the time up to 21 days will mean that some individuals may need to be detained until their departure is arranged, to prevent them from absconding in an attempt to avoid their removal. However, this could be undermined if the person could successfully be granted immigration bail during that period. We are therefore also amending the provision in the Immigration Act 2016 that currently allows the Secretary of State to refuse consent for the individual to be released from detention if the bail hearing is within 14 days of the person’s planned removal. We are extending that to 21 days so that the two time periods are aligned.

It may be helpful to provide an example for illustration. A migrant deliberately disrupts their departure flight and, consequently, their removal needs to be rearranged on a different flight. We may have to book escorts to deal with any future disruption. The migrant is detained while the arrangements are made. If removal is organised within 14 days, detention can continue. However, if removal is set for 17 days, bail might be granted. I am sure we will all agree that a migrant should not be rewarded for their own disruptive behaviour.

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East asked specifically about removal within 21 days after a judicial review without giving a notice period. The purpose of a notice period is to give the migrant sufficient opportunity to access justice. In this scenario, the person has time to access lawyers and the court has given the go-ahead to remove the migrant, so there is no need for further time to challenge our removal decision.

Government new clause 28 will ensure that migrants have ample time to access justice. The cumulative result will be a more efficient and streamlined removals process. I commend our amendment to the Committee.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:00 pm, 28th October 2021

We are not convinced by the Minister’s response and wish to press amendment 137 to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 39 Nationality and Borders Bill — Clause 43 - Removals: notice requirements

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 43 disagreed to.