Successful applicants being unnecessarily put through traumatic process, say lawyers
Nearly three-quarters of final immigration court appeals brought by the Home Office against rulings allowing asylum seekers and other migrants to stay in the UK are dismissed, according to figures seen by the Guardian.
The low success rate raises concerns the Home Office is putting people through lengthy and expensive court processes when it has little chance of winning. One lawyer said the figures, which will be associated with the “hostile environment” policy, showed the government was needlessly “stopping people getting on with their lives”.
People seeking refuge in the UK are initially given a decision by the Home Office on whether they will be allowed to stay. If their application is rejected, they are entitled to appeal against that decision in an immigration court. In the year from April 2017 to March 2018, 11,974 cases were determined in court, with 4,332 of the Home Office’s decisions being overturned.
Of those decisions granting leave to remain, the Home Office then referred 1,235 to the upper tribunal for further appeal, with 900 (73%) rejected by an independent judge, according to a freedom of information response.
The figures will add to concerns about the treatment of people brought to the immigration court, with lengthy delays often part of the process.People can wait more than a year for an initial appeal to be heard. If the judge then rules they can stay in the UK and the Home Office appeals against that, it may be another year or more before the second hearing.
Advocates for asylum seekers say that during that time people cannot get on with their lives: they are often prevented from working, accessing healthcare or renting a home during this time and are subjected to enormous anxiety. For those who are already vulnerable and traumatised, there are concerns the delay and uncertainty may further damage their mental and physical health.
A man who spent an extra year waiting for his case to finally be determined in his favour said: “I was very happy when I won my [first] case but shocked when the Home Office appealed. I had to wait another year before my case was finally sorted out. I suffer from mental health problems and the delay and uncertainty caused me so much stress.”
The Home Office did not respond to questions over whether it had “win rate” targets in these cases, or if a 25% success rate was considered acceptable.
There have been several cases when the Home Office has been castigated for bringing forward final appeals without legal merit. In one case, Mr Justice McCloskey, the former president of the upper tribunal, condemned the home secretary for launching an appeal “on a wing and a prayer”. He added: “It was manifestly devoid of any substance or merit and should have been exposed accordingly.”
The barrister Colin Yeo, who edits the Free Movement blog, said: “The success rate seems very low for a government department. In almost 75% of cases it brings, the Home Office is forcing successful refugees, family members and others to incur additional legal costs to defend a perfectly good decision from a judge and delaying these people from getting on with their lives.”
Sonya Sceats, the chief executive of Freedom from Torture, said: “Long drawn-out legal processes are traumatic for anyone, let alone those who have fled persecution. Having an impartial judge accept that you are at risk of torture or death if you are forced back, only to have this challenged all over again by the Home Office before yet another appeal panel, can have devastating consequences … important questions must be asked about the necessity for, and humanity of, these appeals.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The Home Office carefully considers all allowed appeals and only challenges these in the upper tribunal where we believe there has been a material error of law. We reject any suggestion that allowed appeals are challenged as a matter of routine. The vast majority of onward appeals are made by appellants where the first tier tribunal has dismissed their appeals.”
The Home Office operates a reward scheme for employees and “win rates” in appeal hearings have previously formed part of these rewards. But the Home Office spokeswoman said rewards were not currently given to officials based on how many cases they won. “The rewards would sometimes be given to staff taking on additional duties or for training and mentoring for example,” she said.