Law Lord’s criticism of bill’s appeal process may lead to role for courts

Home secretary David Blunkett is considering backing down on
controversial plans to create a single tier of appeal for asylum
seekers after they were heavily criticised by the Lord Chief
Justice Lord Woolf last week.

Blunkett told a Sunday newspaper that the government was willing to
listen to alternative proposals that involved the courts as long as
they did not allow asylum seekers to launch multiple appeals.

In a stinging attack on ministers, Lord Woolf joined the chorus of
criticism about the plans to strip away the right to challenge
asylum decisions in the courts, arguing that parts of the Asylum
and Immigration Bill were “fundamentally in conflict with the rule
of law and should not be contemplated by any government if it had
respect for the rule of law”.

Taking away the right of appeal to the courts threatened “a blot on
the reputation of the government and to undermine its attempts to
be a champion of the rule of law overseas,” Lord Woolf said.

He said ministers had made unsatisfactory attempts to justify the
measure, but their sole concession to judges’ concerns had been to
promise failed asylum seekers the right to ask for an internal

The government’s desire to speed the asylum process had already
been satisfied in the Nationality, Asylum and Immigration Act 2002,
which enabled the High Court to review cases in weeks rather than
months, Lord Woolf added.

He also suggested that removing the protection of the courts from
one group of people could lead to others being denied it in the

Lord Woolf said the clause could lead to clashes between
parliament, the courts and the government and could fuel a campaign
for a written constitution. He predicted that it would receive
“short shrift” in the House of Lords.

Despite a revolt by 36 Labour MPs and a joint campaign by the
British Association of Social Workers and the Refugee Children’s
Consortium, the bill passed its third reading in the House of
Commons last week.

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