Clause 62 - Tribunal charging power in respect of wasted resources

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 2 November 2021.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:00, 2 November 2021

I echo what the shadow Minister said. This is all really political theatre—a move to get immigration lawyers. As a former immigration lawyer, I cannot let these clauses pass without comment. In my experience, immigration lawyers are a group of people who do an invaluable job, and not one that there is a queue of folk desperate to do. It is a difficult job. Most clients have no resources; legal aid budgets are far from easy; many clients can be communicated with only through interpreters, who are often hard to find; and these lawyers are dealing with facts, circumstances, documents and other evidence from jurisdictions thousands of miles away. The pressures can be enormous. These lawyers are acutely aware that in some cases, if they get things wrong, the client’s life, liberty or human rights are at serious risk.

This group have been egregiously maligned by the Home Secretary and the Home Office. Here, they are singled out again. It is wrong, reckless and counter- productive. It is wrong because, not for the first time, we are being asked to make law on the basis of anecdote, rather than detailed evidence. As has been said, the immigration tribunals have all the powers that they need in their case management, cost and referral powers. They do not need these new, distinct and very controversial powers. Given the difficult job that we recognise these lawyers do, and the significant pressures that they face, the very last thing we should do is create a threat of their having to pay money for taking on a case. As the shadow Minister said, the measures create the risk of a conflict of interest, because solicitors could find that doing the right thing for their client, or following their client’s instructions, puts them at risk of having to pay a financial penalty.

The measures are also wrong because immigration lawyers have been singled out. I would have thought alarm bells would be ringing in the Home Office at the idea of putting in place a procedure that will apply only to lawyers operating on behalf of non-nationals. I suspect this would see the Home Office in court again. I could go along to the immigration tribunal and do something that I might do without facing consequences in the social security tribunal, employment tribunal, tax tribunal or any other tribunal; but I would find that in the immigration tribunal, there were special provisions in place for me to pay some sort of financial penalty. That seems odd.

Speaking of the tax tribunal, the provisions are essentially a tax. We do not know how much the tax will be, because we are not given any indication at all of the nature of the penalties involved, but it is a tax, because it is not compensation to the other party for wasted costs—we already have provision for that. The money goes straight to the Exchequer. On the other side of the coin, if the Government representative is guilty of this misconduct, the Government pay themselves. They hand over money to the Exchequer. There is not equality of arms, by any stretch of the imagination.

As the shadow Minister said, the measure is also counterproductive, because when the conduct described in the new procedure rules occurs, we will end up with endless hearings, and solicitors will be repeatedly made to come to hearings, just to explain why the situation happened. That is a waste of time, and in absolutely nobody’s interests. I have no idea what the Home Office is playing at here, other than performing political theatre and again having a go at immigration lawyers. If hon. Members want an example of vexatious, unreasonable conduct, they should read these two clauses, because that is exactly what they are.