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Immigration tribunal fees hike to go ahead despite steep opposition

MoJ defies profession and jeopardises access to justice to protect the taxpayer

16 September 2016

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Plans for a 500 per cent hike in fees for asylum and immigration tribunals are set to go ahead despite overwhelming support for them to be scrapped.

Responding to a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) consultation on the proposals, 142 of 147 parties disagreed with the move, the majority of whom cited that the large fee increases for first-tier tribunals would deny access to justice for vulnerable people wishing to challenge Home Office decisions.

Law Society president Robert Bourns said the MoJ’s ‘decision to proceed with these punitive increases was a huge setback for justice in the UK’.

‘Immigration and asylum tribunal fee increases on this scale are unaffordable to most and thus deny people access to justice, to challenge the lawfulness of decisions taken by an executive function about their immigration and asylum status. This questions the rule of law in this country,’ he continued.

‘We believe that the proposed increases will greatly strengthen the hand of the state against already vulnerable and fearful people. Additionally the move could breach an individual’s rights to family life and a fair trial under the Human Rights Act.’

In June the Justice Select Committee said proposals to raise immigration and asylum fees by 500 per cent, before reviewing the impact of the implementation of employment tribunal fees, were ‘unwise’.

However, the prospect of receiving an estimated £37m per year as it is not ‘reasonable to expect the taxpayer to subsidise access to this tribunal’ appears to have won the day.

Under the proposed arrangement, those applying for an oral hearing will have to pay over six times the amount for a paper decision, from £80 to £490, while applicants for an oral hearing will pay £800, up from £140.

Applicants appealing to the first-tier tribunal for permission to appeal to the upper-tribunal will also be required to pay a fee (£455) for the first time.

Among those to be particularly hard hit will be families making joint appeals, where the fee is payable by each family member. A family of five would have to pay £4,000 compared to the £800 fee for a single person, though both receive the same ‘service’.

Applicants to the upper tribunal will also be required to pay a fee (£350) for the first time, while those wishing to appeal must pay £510. Just ten of the 116 respondents agreed with this decision while the remaining 106 disagreed, citing concerns over access to justice.

In calling for parliament to hold the MoJ to account and reject the fee increases, Bourns added: ‘The principle of affordable justice for all should prevail over the government’s ‘full costs recovery model’, particularly in an area of law where tribunal appeals are exclusively against decisions of the state.

‘The high rate of successful appeals before the tribunal raises questions over the initial decision-making by officials.’

The Law Society believes the MoJ could balance its books ‘by using the profits of up to 440 per cent generated by visa applications to fund the tribunal’.

It pointed to the profits of up to 440 per cent received by the Home Office on visa applications before the fee-increases in March 2016.

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