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Asylum and Immigration Tribunal

Volume 497: debated on Wednesday 14 October 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many files were destroyed by the fire at the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal Centre in London on 19 March 2009; how many such files have yet to be reconstructed; how many cases have been delayed as a consequence of that fire; and when he expects those cases to have been determined. (290262)

On 18 March 2009, 127 Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT) files and 22 Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) files were completely destroyed by fire at the AIT's centre, Field House.

All of the SIAC files have been reconstructed. All the 127 AIT files were awaiting decisions from the Court of Appeal. Of these, 12 have been reconstructed and remitted back to the AIT. Administrative staff have requested the necessary papers from the parties in order for these cases to be listed for hearings. A further 26 have been completed because they were withdrawn at the Court of Appeal or Court of Appeal judgments not in favour of the appellant have been delivered. The Court of Appeal has now returned from summer recess and it is expected that the remainder of these will be cleared.

There were also 141 files, at various stages of the AIT reconsideration process, that were damaged by water and smoke and these were sent to a file recovery centre. On return, the files were checked and any papers that were illegible were re-requested from parties. All these cases are now progressing through the appeal system.

A total of 128 AIT cases were adjourned immediately after the fire but hearings resumed a week later at an alternative venue. A total of 93 have already been heard and determined, four have been heard and are awaiting determination, 24 were heard in September and will be determined in October, two will be heard and determined in October and five will be heard and determined in November. These timescales reflect the time needed, in some cases, to reconstruct damaged appeal files. The SIAC cases have not been subject to any delay.

Priority has been given to High Court Review Filter Applications (where a party is dissatisfied with the first appeal decision) with the aim that parties received decisions within 10 days. Here, the impact of the fire was compounded by unexpected increases in workload. All of these cases have now been cleared.

The files destroyed and damaged represent a small number compared with over 1,000 which were salvaged from Field House. A huge contingency operation where administrative staff and members of the judiciary worked closely together ensured that hearings were resumed and the business relocated with a minimum inconvenience and delay to customers.