Clause 62 - Tribunal charging power in respect of wasted resources

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 2 November 2021.

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Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:45, 2 November 2021

I will also speak to clause 63, because the two clauses seem to be interconnected.

We think that these provisions are unnecessary and should be removed from the Bill. The Government’s proposals in both clauses are unnecessary. The Bill requires the tribunal procedure committee to give the tribunal the power to fine individuals exercising a right of audience or a right to conduct litigation, or an employee of such a person, for

“improper, unreasonable or negligent behaviour”.

This broad formulation could have a chilling effect on the willingness of solicitors to take on difficult cases, for fear of risking personal financial liability. That may also extend to Home Office presenting officers who would similarly be liable under the measure.

The immigration tribunals already have all the case management, costs and referral powers that they need to control their own procedure. Giving new powers to immigration tribunals without establishing a basis in evidence for them is not warranted. The clauses will therefore make it harder for lawyers acting for people with immigration cases to do their job in immigration tribunal hearings.

Immigration law practitioners fulfil a key role in enabling access to the courts and therefore access to justice, so that a person who is the subject of an immigration decision may make their case properly and seek vindication. Lawyers, both solicitors and barristers, play an important role in facilitating the smooth functioning of the asylum process, helping their clients to navigate the system and providing an additional layer of filtering against meritless cases.

All lawyers have a responsibility to uphold the rule of law and are strictly regulated by several bodies to ensure that they act to the highest professional standard. As a former lawyer myself, I am aware of the rigorous regulatory regime of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which includes duties to the court and duties of integrity. Solicitors also act in the best interests of their client, and that is vital in ensuring effective access to justice. Those who provide services to people seeking asylum in England and Wales are also likely to be doing so on a legal aid basis, for which the Legal Aid Agency provides a further means of scrutiny and oversight.

In acting for people subject to immigration control, among other things, immigration lawyers work with clients who may lack funds and legal aid entitlements; whose documents may be incomplete, missing or badly translated; and whose statements as to their past experiences may be hard to secure, on account of the ill treatment they have suffered in their country of origin.

In addition, much is at stake in immigration proceedings. A person subject to immigration control who loses their case may be subject to expulsion from the UK and face a risk of harm in their country of origin. They may be separated from their family, or may lose the life they have built up in the UK over many years, leaving their lawyer in the position of making difficult but arguable points on their behalf. The proposals in clauses 62 and 63 of the Bill will only make that task harder.

Labour shares the concerns of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association and the Law Society that immigration lawyers are being needlessly targeted by the new costs orders and charge orders, which are not necessary and do not apply in other areas of law. Immigration tribunal judges already have all they need by way of case management powers, costs powers and referral powers. Making the task of immigration lawyers harder prejudices access to justice, and has not been shown to be necessary by the evidence.