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Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 2015

Volume 760: debated on Wednesday 11 March 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 2015.

Relevant document: 21st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

The draft rules amend the Special Immigration Appeals Commission—which I will call SIAC—rules of procedure, giving effect to two provisions contained within the Immigration Act 2014. These are straight- forward—being consequential to the new Act—but, none the less, important amendments. One will amend a current right of appeal to SIAC and introduce a new power of statutory review to ensure that all cases that should be dealt with by SIAC remain there, while the other will tighten up its bail processes.

Your Lordships will be aware from previous debates that SIAC is a specialist tribunal dealing with the most serious immigration and asylum appeals where there are issues of national security or other matters of public interest. For instance, it has heard cases under the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 by persons certified as suspected international terrorists. SIAC heard the deportation case of Abu Qatada, for example. Unlike other immigration tribunals, it has processes in place designed to control the disclosure of material which, if released into the public domain, could be damaging. These are its closed material procedure and its use of special advocates, whereby some of the Home Secretary’s evidence is withheld from the appellant and his representatives. The purpose in both instances is to avoid compromising intelligence sources and the UK’s national security. The appellant’s interests are instead represented by a special advocate—a lawyer of the highest experience and ability and who has access to all the material withheld from the appellant.

The Immigration Act 2014 is being implemented by the Home Office on a phased basis, starting last July, with full and final implementation on 6 April this year. It contains a number of provisions to improve and streamline immigration processes. We have already considered and debated all of the Act’s provisions during its passage last year, so today is not about revisiting those, but rather about the consequential procedural rule amendments that are now required.

The Immigration Act provides that there will be a right of appeal to a tribunal only where fundamental rights are involved. From next month, the Act will remove the current right of appeal to SIAC against deportation decisions where the individual does not claim that removal would breach their human rights. Although it is likely that an individual will claim deportation would breach their human rights, there may still be cases where an appellant does not want to challenge their deportation on that basis, but rather that the reasoning behind the deportation decision itself is flawed. The Act allows for that by introducing a further power of statutory review to SIAC’s jurisdiction.

The number of cases that we are talking about is likely to be very small indeed. SIAC is a low-volume jurisdiction: it currently has only 17 appeals, although it has some other work. Although this does not represent a significant extension to the use of the closed material procedure, we must still make provision to allow SIAC to continue to consider these cases. Without the new review, the only route of challenge once the statutory appeal is removed would be by way of a judicial review to the High Court. This would not be satisfactory for two reasons. First, the High Court has only limited provision for the closed material procedure. Secondly, SIAC is the tribunal with the greatest judicial and panel member expertise in immigration matters and national security cases, and is the specialist in deciding and using closed material procedure.

SIAC is a superior court of record. It is presided over by a senior and experienced judge of the High Court, so this is not a lesser option. SIAC already deals with two other types of statutory review: to set aside a direction by the Home Secretary to exclude a non-EEA national from the UK and to set aside a decision by the Home Secretary in relation to naturalisation and citizenship applications. In both instances, SIAC is required under primary legislation to apply the same principles that would apply in judicial review proceedings; namely, the principles of natural justice and general public law. This further statutory review will also apply these principles, so SIAC will, as it does now, give full and proper consideration to any request for the closed material procedure.

In mandating those two statutory reviews in SIAC, Parliament has decided that it is the appropriate forum for all immigration challenges involving matters of national security or other public interest. I am sure noble Lords will agree that we would not want to go back on that decision when deciding whether to approve this amendment today.

The Immigration Act also tackles repeated bail applications, which are often made in an effort to delay someone’s removal from the United Kingdom. Before the new Immigration Act there was no limit on the number of bail applications that someone could make, and an identical application could be filed the day after one had been refused. These all currently require a hearing, which can be costly and time consuming. From April, these draft amendment rules will allow SIAC to dismiss a repeat application without a hearing if it is made within 28 days of an earlier unsuccessful application and there has been no material change in the applicant’s circumstances. Similar rules are in place in the First-tier Tribunal Immigration and Asylum Chamber, as required by the Immigration Act provisions which were commenced in October last year, so these amendments provide parity in the rules of procedure.

The draft rules have been produced on behalf of the Lord Chancellor following a short period of consultation by the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice with several of the bodies most familiar with SIAC, including the Law Society, the Bar Council, special advocates and the SIAC chairman and judiciary. We are therefore satisfied that they meet the needs of SIAC users and adjudicators.

The rules before us represent straightforward changes but, as I have outlined, they are critical in preserving our national security. Decisions made by the Home Secretary in reliance on sensitive and potentially damaging material should continue to be challenged at SIAC rather than the High Court. SIAC’s hearing time is best saved for dealing with such matters and for the appellants who genuinely need it, rather than being spent on unmeritorious applications for bail. I therefore commend these rules to the Committee, and I beg to move.

My Lords, as the Minister has outlined, these rules make amendments to bring the 2003 rules into line with the provisions of the Immigration Act 2014. The first change to the rules is the removal of the current right of appeal to SIAC against deportation decisions where there are no human rights grounds and the application of a new section of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997 allowing SIAC to deal with these by way of a statutory review. Appeal rights properly and rightly remain for human rights matters. Will the Minister comment on whether any thought has been given to whether the restriction of these appeal rights is likely to increase the number of cases claiming human rights as a reason? Has any further work been done on the potential cost in that case? Have the Government taken account of those costs when they looked at the savings they think they will make?

On the forum for appeals, we are always concerned when there is an extension of the use of closed material procedures. Will the Minister say something further about the matters that will be dealt with by SIAC rather than the High Court by a process of statutory review rather than by judicial review? I assume that the terms will be of a similar effect. I was pleased when the Minister confirmed that asylum will be looked at on human rights grounds, using the same criteria as the High Court. I agree with his comments about the members of the judiciary who work in that court.

On the question of bail, some concerns have been raised as to what constitutes material change. Could the Minister say a bit more about that as well? I get his point about renewed bail applications being permitted only when there has been material change. I assume that I am right in thinking that a procedural defect would be a very serious material change. Could he outline any further things that would constitute material change? With that, I accept that these are important and serious matters and matters of national security and I am happy to support the rules.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his observations and for his acceptance, for the most part, of what lies behind these rules. He makes a valuable point in asking whether there could be a perverse incentive for somebody to claim that there were human rights violations and therefore get themselves within SIAC. That is, with respect, a little unlikely. In fact, the purport of the regulations is to embrace those cases where national security is an issue but the person is not relying on human rights grounds. Classically, that would happen on the grounds of Article 3 or Article 8 of the European convention. It has to fall within SIAC because of the national security arguments; it is not a simple incantation of a human-rights based challenge.

I caused some inquiries to be made as to precisely what cases might come within the regulation when somebody was not claiming human rights grounds and would therefore be covered by this measure. I was given to understand that the likely applicant would be someone who was before the court in relation to espionage, who would not want to rely ex hypothesi on Articles 3 or 8 but might want to challenge the underlying assertion that they were, in effect, a spy. In that way, they would still come within the national security ambit of SIAC, involving all the closed material procedures with which we are familiar—the special advocates and well travelled range of things—and not rely on human rights matters.

The noble Lord asked about costs. I do not believe that the human rights element of itself would cause additional costs. In relation to the rules amendment costs, there are minimal costs on the work of drafting and laying the amendment rules and no costs to the SIAC administrator or Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service in introducing this new statutory review. They already deal with other statutory reviews, so forms, guidance and IT are not affected. The bail amendments will reduce costs for SIAC, because they will save hearing time from being used on unmeritorious applications.

The question of material changes is a fairly well travelled doctrine in terms of bail applications generally, and judges will be familiar with that. It involves something material, as the adjective suggests, not just a minor change that warrants an application—something that may have an effect on personal circumstances, such as their address, giving the court grounds for thinking that the risk was somewhat less than originally appreciated. It might be a matter for SIAC to give further guidance, but of course material change of circumstance is the sort of thing that courts are used to addressing in a number of circumstances. Indeed, the noble Lord may be familiar with it in his guise as a magistrate, with frequent bail applications—although I may be wrong in thinking that he is a magistrate. It might be something that affects the range of considerations which the tribunal thought important when the previous bail application was decided. I would be reluctant to specify precisely what might constitute material circumstances, but it does not mean de minimis matters, things that do not really alter the basis of the application. It would be a matter for the court on the particular facts of the case to decide whether there had been a material change.

I hope that, with those assurances, the Committee is content that the rules should proceed, and I beg to move.

Motion agreed.