Government backtracks on appeals

The government performed a U-turn this week on plans to remove the
right to challenge asylum decisions in the courts after an
intervention from Lord Irvine, the former lord chancellor.

Lord Irvine was due to criticise the plans in the second reading of
the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Bill in the
House of Lords but withdrew when ministers made a climbdown.

Speaking at the opening of the debate, lord chancellor Lord
Falconer said that the government would replace the plans with a
system allowing asylum seekers to appeal to the courts. He admitted
that his decision had been influenced by Lord Irvine, who had
“forcibly made representations about the bill”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Constitutional Affairs said
there were no details of the new system available yet.

Judges, lawyers and social care campaigners had strongly criticised
proposals to create a single-tier of appeal for asylum seekers
outside the scrutiny of the courts.

Lord chief justice Lord Woolf, who earlier described the proposals
as “fundamentally in conflict with the rule of law”, welcomed the
government’s decision.

Speaking during the second reading debate, Lord Woolf said he
backed a proposal in a report on the bill by the select committee
on constitutional affairs to give the statutory review process more
time to show its merit (news, page 8, 4 March). He added that he
doubted whether there was a more “satisfactory solution”.

Statutory review, which was established under the Nationality,
Asylum and Immigration Act 2002, enables the High Court to review
decisions in weeks rather than months.

Welcoming the move, the Refugee Council chief executive Maeve
Sherlock urged the government to “reconsider its approach” and
focus on improving the quality of initial asylum decisions. “Given
that the weight of evidence and opinion is so firmly against the
plans to block judicial review of flawed asylum decisions, the
government is taking the sensible option,” she said.

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