Immigration and asylum seekers are regularly exploited or let down by unscrupulous or incompetent legal advisers, civil rights organisation Justice has revealed.
One solicitor had told the client the fee for counsel was five times what it was and pocketed the difference, according to a Justice report published this week, Immigration and Asylum Appeals – a Fresh Look. Justice found that certain firms provide poor quality legal representation and heard of ‘many examples of unsupervised, unqualified persons giving immigration advice’. It also highlighted ‘incompetent advice, verging on the dishonest, where proceedings bound to fail are launched’.
There is a shortage of solicitors in this field—the number providing legal aid has reduced since 2013 from 413 to 294.
A Justice Working Group chaired by Professor Sir Ross Cranston looked at Home Office refusal decisions, through statutory appeals and judicial review process to the right of appeal to the Court of Appeal. In its report, it presents 48 practical recommendations for change.
Sir Cranston said: ‘The immigration and asylum appeal system suffers from widely reported deficiencies and a culture of non-compliance with the rules and practice directions.
‘This leads to high volumes of cases in the appeals system and lengthy delays.’
The recent removal of appeal rights by the Immigration Act 2014 has led to an increase in judicial reviews. Moreover, a high percentage of appeals against Home Office decisions are successful (40% of asylum appeals were successful in 2016/17), casting doubt on the quality of initial decision-making.
Justice’s recommendations include: getting Home Office decision-making right first time and building in an effective review system; improving communication between the parties at the decision-making, pre-hearing and hearing stages to ensure all relevant evidence is considered; and introducing clearer forms and translation services as the system moves to online processes.
Justice urges a crackdown on ‘unsupervised, unqualified and poor quality representatives purporting to provide advice and assistance to appellants’ through ‘heightened scrutiny mechanisms’. It suggests promoting the role of tribunal case workers and judicial case management to improve tribunal efficiency; and keeping rights of appeal as ‘a fundamental safeguard’ but ‘streamlining certain permission and review processes’.
Immigration & asylum report highlights poor quality advice plaguing cases