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Immigration Tribunals

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 28 June 2011

1. What steps he is taking to reduce the sums spent from the public purse on repeated appeals in immigration tribunals. (62243)

11. What steps he is taking to reduce the sums spent from the public purse on repeated appeals in immigration tribunals. (62255)

As announced in our response to the consultation “Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales”, published on 21 June, we are removing most immigration cases, including appeals, from the scope of legal aid. We are also removing legal aid for certain repeat judicial reviews in immigration and asylum cases, subject to certain exceptions. We expect those measures to save more than £20 million a year. The Government have also consulted on introducing fees for appeals to the immigration and asylum chamber of the tribunal.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Many of my constituents are becoming increasingly exasperated at the fact that some solicitors seem to exploit changes in circumstances and decisions, such as those on article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998, simply to string out cases for as long as possible. What is he doing to ensure that legal aid is spent appropriately? What conversations has he had with the Immigration Minister on the reform of the immigration decision process?

I can confirm that we are removing legal aid from most immigration cases. That will mean that the taxpayer is no longer funding those cases, which we think are relatively low priority. My hon. Friend has also spoken about cross-departmental co-operation, and we have had a number of discussions with the Home Office about our legal aid proposals, which go in the same direction as its proposals—for example, on making changes to the rules on how relatives of migrants are allowed to come into the UK. That close working will continue.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the coalition Government inherited an immigration appeals process that is slow, unwieldy and routinely abused by applicants and their legal advisers? Does he further agree that the system needs a root-and-branch overhaul to make it fit for function?

A number of the consultations did address this issue, including those with the judges, so we are acting to contain an avenue for abuse which my hon. Friend identifies. The Government intend to remove legal aid for immigration and asylum judicial reviews, where there has been an appeal or judicial review to a tribunal or court on the same issue or a substantially similar issue within a period of one year, as well as for judicial reviews challenging removal directions, subject to certain exceptions.

As we are talking about immigration appeals and judicial reviews, what message does it send out to the law-abiding member of the public when someone such as Phillip Machemedze, that appalling Zimbabwean who was responsible for torturing, killing and doing dreadful things in Zimbabwe, is told by a judge that he cannot be sent back because he might be tortured or his human rights might be affected? Surely immigration and asylum is about people who have behaved well and are running away from tyranny, and not about people who are part of that tyranny.

Where human rights are concerned and where someone risks being terrorised in their country of origin—I am not saying that it is right or wrong that they should go back—it is right that they receive legal aid to defend their interests.