'Broken promises that shatter families'

In just two years since changes to appeal rights were brought in by the Immigration Act 2014, the UK's immigration appeals system has racked up a worrying backlog of cases '“ leaving hundreds of families separated for months or years.

This is wholly unacceptable and attention must be drawn to a system which is entirely unable to cope.

The Immigration Act 2014 came into force under a cloud of criticism from human rights campaigners. It reduced people’s right to appeal against 17 different immigration decisions (including unlawful and erroneous decisions made by the Home Office) to just three: refusal of a human rights claim; refusal of a protection claim (humanitarian protection and asylum); and revocation of protection status.

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In response to criticism about delays in the immigration appeal system, the then Justice Minister, Shailesh Vara, stated in the House of Commons in November 2015: “As a consequence of the Immigration Act 2014, we anticipate the number of appeals going down. We are keeping an eye on the numbers and at the moment we do not see a particular concern, but if there is one, we will make sure that there are more sittings.”

This was in response to concerns about a significant backlog in the immigration tribunal. The Justice Minister gave reassurances that more resources would be provided to the Ministry of Justice to enable more cases to be heard if the backlog persisted.

It would appear that this promise has already been broken. Under the Freedom of Information Act, my firm asked the Home Office to reveal the number of human rights appeals made to the First-Tier Tribunal in 2015 and 2016.

We asked how many of these appeals had been dealt with during those years. This gave a clear indication of an increasing backlog. The firm also asked how many of those appeals were successful from people living inside the UK, and from people who had to make their appeal from abroad.

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In 2015, 15,142 appeals were received. Just 87 were successful in that same year, while the majority drifted into 2016.

In 2016, 27,563 appeals were made – prompting calls for more funding to deal with a tightening bottleneck of cases. 2,650 appeals were successful but less than half of those (1,032) were from people outside the UK. Decisions regarding appeals made in 2016, appear to largely have been pushed into 2017.

What experts feared and warned would happen has indeed come true; access to justice is reduced and we are left with a system which is entirely unable to cope. The promise of extra funding to relieve the backlog has not been kept, and delays are increasing in the tribunals.

The number of cases which are now regularly added to what’s called a ‘float list’ – cases that haven’t been allocated a court date but which might find themselves in front of a judge, if one becomes available on that day, is increasing. Yet often no judges become available and that case is then moved to a new hearing which could easily be a further four to six months into the future.

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The impact on children, some of whom are now living separated from their parents, is particularly significant and devastating.

In these cases, first-hand testimony is absolutely paramount. Yet more and more immigrants are being asked to leave the UK and make their appeal from overseas. What they don’t realise, and what our figures show, is that they face poorer chances of success than those who have been allowed to make their appeal from inside the UK. Perhaps this is what Ms May and her Government want to achieve. But can we really allow this to continue?

We anticipated to find a significant backlog of human rights appeal cases, but the figures are far worse than feared. At Simpson Millar, we are dealing with cases where people are waiting over a year for their appeal to be heard. These are cases where family members are often separated from one another. It is unacceptable when we are dealing

with something that is fundamental to people’s lives.

Emma Brooksbank is head of immigration at Leeds law firm Simpson Millar