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Free Movement: Immigration judicial reviews to be transferred


Government to amend Crime and Courts Bill to allow transfer of immigration judicial review cases from the High Court to the Upper Tribunal

Date of Publication:

Colin Yeo's Free Movement blog is reporting that ILPA have highlighted that the Government is amending the Crime and Courts Bill to allow transfer of any or all immigration, asylum and nationality judicial review cases from the High Court to the Upper Tribunal.

Free Movement says the amendment has universal support from politicians and the judiciary and is therefore very likely now to become law.

Lord McNally is quoted as saying: "The further categories of cases that would be transferred to the Upper Tribunal would have to be set out in a direction, or directions, made by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor under the provisions in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. We envisage that the transfers will take place in a staged fashion to increase slowly the types of judicial review dealt with by the Upper Tribunal."

Free Movement has more at

The relevant transcript from Monday's Lords Hansard is below:

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Crime and Courts Bill [HL]

Committee (5th Day)

3.12 pm

Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 2nd Report from the Constitution Committee.

Amendment 135

Moved by Lord McNally

135: After Clause 19, insert the following new Clause-

"Transfer of immigration or nationality judicial review applications

(1) In section 31A of the Senior Courts Act 1981 (transfer from the High Court to the Upper Tribunal)-

(a) in subsection (2), for ", 3 and 4" substitute "and 3",

(b) omit subsection (2A),

(c) in subsection (3), for ", 2 and 4" substitute "and 2", and

(d) omit subsections (7) and (8).

(2) In consequence of the amendments made by subsection (1), section 53(1) of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 is repealed."

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, this amendment will remove restrictions contained in Section 31A of the Senior Courts Act 1981. It will enable applications for or permission to seek judicial review in immigration, asylum and nationality cases to be transferred from the High Court in England and Wales to the Upper Tribunal.

As noble Lords will be aware, this House has considered this issue before. In 2009, the House thought it appropriate to allow the High Court to transfer fresh claim judicial reviews to the Upper Tribunal. These are judicial reviews that relate to a refusal by the Home Secretary to treat further submissions as fresh asylum or human rights claims on the basis that they are not significantly different from the material previously considered. These cases have been heard in the Upper Tribunal since October 2011 and the process is working well. This amendment would potentially enable any class of immigration, asylum or nationality judicial review to be heard in the Upper Tribunal.

The further categories of cases that would be transferred to the Upper Tribunal would have to be set out in a direction, or directions, made by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor under the provisions in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. We envisage that the transfers will take place in a staged fashion to increase slowly the types of judicial review dealt with by the Upper Tribunal. The ability to transfer such cases would play an important role in improving access to justice. Immigration and asylum judicial review cases currently form a high proportion-around 70%-of the caseload in the administrative court. The total number of these cases has doubled in the past five years, with around 8,800 being received in 2011. Many of these cases are relatively straightforward. This volume of cases is unsustainable for the administrative court. It keeps High Court judges from other complex civil and criminal cases that they should be hearing. It has created a backlog and has added to waiting times for all public law cases heard by the administrative court.

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I recently met the president of the Queen's Bench Division and the president of the Upper Tribunal immigration and asylum chamber to discuss the progress that has been made in the Upper Tribunal since it was created in 2010. I am persuaded that it now represents the most appropriate venue for the majority of judicial reviews of this type. As the avenue for appeals against a decision of the First-tier Tribunal, the Upper Tribunal deals with thousands of appeals each year. Since acquiring this jurisdiction it has received nearly 200 fresh claim judicial reviews, which have been dealt with more quickly. Fresh claim cases are on average dealt with in seven weeks, compared to an average of 11 weeks for the administrative court. This has not been at the expense of quality. The judges who sit in the Upper Tribunal have a high level of expertise, particularly in relation to in-country conditions and human rights implications, and are regularly joined by judges of the administrative court.

The Upper Tribunal's expertise in the field of asylum and country guidance cases has been recognised by the higher courts in the UK and the European Court of Human Rights. It is able to make well informed decisions that will deliver justice in these types of judicial review cases, in the same way as the High Court has done in the past. I beg to move.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, this amendment would allow judicial reviews of immigration and asylum cases and nationality matters to be transferred from the High Court, where judicial review is currently heard, to the Upper Tribunal, as my noble friend has explained. To many of your Lordships, this must feel like Groundhog Day. Parliament made clear its views on whether JRs should be transferred from the High Court into the tribunals once in 2007, during debate on what is now the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, and again in 2009, during debates on what is now Section 53 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009. It has said no and has said so powerfully. The arguments against the Upper Tribunal being entrusted with this responsibility still hold good.

The 2007 Act established a new regime, bringing together several tribunal jurisdictions into one structure comprising the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal, or UT for short. The Act allowed for the transfer of certain JR applications from the High Court to the UT but, as a result of amendments made during its passage, excluded immigration and nationality JRs from the cases that could be transferred. Parliament returned to this matter, as my noble friend has reminded us, in 2009 during debates on the then Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill and again rejected a proposal that would permit the wholesale transfer of immigration and nationality JRs.

The compromise reached was that a JR concerned with a decision on a fresh claim for asylum-that is, one made after an earlier claim and any appeals against its refusal had finally been rejected-was made transferable. Since 2009, the once separate Asylum and Immigration Tribunal has been transferred into the two-tier structure, with an immigration and asylum chamber in the First-tier Tribunal and in the UT. Meanwhile, on a case-by-case basis, the High Court has transferred a few JRs against local authorities

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concerning the age of separated children seeking asylum to the UT where they have ended up in the immigration and asylum chamber. However, age-dispute JRs can be transferred because they are not decisions about immigration or nationality and are therefore not affected by the 2007 Act. These cases start in the administrative court, but can be transferred to the UT on a case-by-case basis. There have been only four reported cases to date.

Fresh-claim JRs are transferred as a class. There are no reported cases yet and only one case that the tribunal was to hear. The UT has no experience of hearing JR cases so there is no way of assessing whether it is likely to cope well or badly with them. Meanwhile, although there is power to transfer fresh-claim judicial reviews from the Outer House of the Court of Session in Scotland to the UT, that power has never been exercised. I can do no better than cite the comments of the late Lord Kingsland on Report on the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill. He said,

"first, the Government have broken their promise to your Lordships' House not to introduce primary legislation permitting the transfer of judicial review matters in asylum and immigration cases until we have sufficient evidence that the system for judicial transfers in other classes of case are working well. Secondly, the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, would be extremely unhappy to permit such transfers unless we were satisfied that the transferred AIT single-tier regime to the Upper and Lower Tribunals did indeed have the effect of leading to much fairer and more timely decisions, thus reducing substantially the overall number of judicial review cases ... Thirdly, as I have indicated, judicial review is a crucial component in the struggle to protect the individual. Many of these cases raise issues, at best, of the freedom of the individual and, at worst, of torture and death. It is vital that it remains open to someone in such cases to have the application heard by a High Court judge".-[Official Report, 1/4/09; cols. 1126-27.]

There is no such evidence yet. Powers to transfer JRs into the UT are being sought when it has done only a handful of age assessment cases and has not built up any track record whatever in dealing with fresh-claim JRs. High Court judges have sat in the UT, but there are also judges in that chamber who were adjudicators and special adjudicators of the former Immigration Appellate Authority and its successors. They have never heard cases outside the immigration and asylum tribunal jurisdiction, but the amendment would allow them to deal with JRs on which they have zero experience.

Speaking for the then Government in 2007, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, accepted that JRs in immigration cases were particularly sensitive. The point was underlined by a forceful observation from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in Grand Committee in 2006. She said:

"I support my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick in relation to the requirement to have someone of the level of a High Court judge to hear a judicial review in the tribunal. It would be invidious for there not to be a judge of that rank dealing with it. I support my noble and learned friend very strongly".-[Official Report, 13/12/06; col. GC 68.]

Then there was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who said at Second Reading of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill:

"If the effect ... is that the administrative court would be bound to transfer judicial review applications in all immigration cases, I would be strongly opposed to it".-[Official Report, 11/2/09; col. 1142.]

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The then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord West, winding up that debate, said that,

"the senior judiciary are very supportive of the clause"-[Official Report, 11/2/09; col. 1211.]

that is, the clause providing for the transfer-which he said was shown by the responses of the President of the Queen's Bench Division, the Master of the Rolls and the Senior President of Tribunals to the consultation on immigration appeals. However, the Master of the Rolls had merely indicated that he supported the views of the President of the Queen's Bench, who in turn stated that proposals for transfer of JRs in general were welcome, but emphasised that:

"Some of them are plainly suited to the Administrative Court and should remain there".

The Senior President of the Tribunals agreed with him. The Court of Session judges did not welcome the proposal. They said that,

"any decision as to a more general transfer of judicial review jurisdiction in this area-


"should be made only once the Upper Tribunal has gained extensive experience of implementing its proposed remit".

No such extensive experience has been gained. Others, including the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, the Constitutional and Administrative Law Bar Association, the Glasgow Immigration Practitioners' Group, the Law Society, the Refugee Legal Centre, the Refugee Council and individual lawyers, have expressed views similar to those of the judges of the Court of Session.

Lord Woolf: As the noble Lord has made clear, there is a considerable history here. When he is referring to the bodies that have indicated their objections, could he help the House by indicating whether the objections are indeed to the present amendment or to an earlier one?

Lord Avebury: As I understand it, my Lords, these representations and views have been expressed by the bodies that I have mentioned in response to this particular legislation. I am relying particularly on the excellent briefing that we have received from ILPA, which quotes all those authorities.

The amendment would allow for the transfer of any immigration or nationality JR by decision of the High Court, the Northern Ireland High Court or the Court of Session in the individual case, and empower the Lord Chief Justice, with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor, to direct that all immigration and nationality JRs or any specific class of these JRs must be transferred. The temptation would be to exercise the powers in an effort to reduce the load on the higher courts, but the right solution is to improve the quality of decision-making so that there are fewer litigants seeking JRs. The number is likely to fall in any case because of the LASPO Act provision that legal aid is no longer available for ordinary immigration cases.

ILPA has set out constructive suggestions for reducing the number of JR applications and indeed the burden on the appeals system as a whole. In 2009, for instance, it requested that UKBA disclose information on the

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number of immigration and asylum JRs that are conceded by the agency or in which the agency has agreed to make a fresh decision without the need for the process to be seen all the way through. The agency told ILPA that it was too expensive to retrieve this information, but it gave some data on the very large number of immigration JRs that are withdrawn: 1,185 cases in 2006 and 1,532 in 2007. We do not have more recent figures but I hope that my noble friend will tell us what the latest figure is for 2011, to compare with a total of some 9,000 given by my noble friend Lord McNally in his letter to the chair of the JCHR on 12 June.

As was recognised in 2006-07, immigration and asylum JRs are particularly sensitive. It remains the case that the tribunal has not demonstrated the same ability to deal with UKBA's conduct as a litigant as has the High Court. The agency's failures to respond in a timely manner to directions from the tribunal to disclose relevant matters or adequately to plead its case are problems that continue to beset all too many cases.

I will not try the House's patience by going through all ILPA's suggestions, but there is one that I think will particularly appeal to your Lordships. The Home Office could address the many hundreds of Zimbabwean cases that have contributed substantially to the workload since 2005 by reviewing and, where appropriate, conceding. Many of these cases will include findings of fact justifying a grant of refugee status in the light of the country guidance determination in RN (Zimbabwe), which has just been held not to have been overturned in JG and CM (Zimbabwe), the text of which is awaited.

In conclusion, the reasons given in your Lordships' debates in 2007 and 2009 for not transferring more JR cases to the UT-that immigration and asylum JRs were the most sensitive cases, and the new chambers' handling of JRs required testing first-still hold good. The number of cases going to the High Court and Court of Appeal could be reduced by other means, and restricting access to the higher courts would merely encourage or allow for poor decision-making. Decisions of the Court of Appeal on appeals from the UT show that it continues to be the higher courts, rather than the UT, that call for the UK Border Agency to account for its conduct as a litigant.

3.30 pm

Lord Woolf: My Lords, I will say a few words in support of this amendment. In order to understand its importance, one has to take into account the matters that were so clearly outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, just before I rose to my feet. The history that he has described indicates that this is not an amendment that should be lightly accepted. Time has moved on since some of the matters to which he referred arose, and the experience so far of the quality of the tribunals, particularly the Upper Tribunal, has been particularly good.

The other important matter is the resource of High Court judges. The demands for the services of High Court judges are extensive. At present, there is the grave danger that judicial review will not be able to achieve one of its most necessary characteristics, which

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is to deal expeditiously with the urgent applications that come before it. This is critical because sometimes the very fact of the application for judicial review can and does delay matters of great importance-I hope am not overstepping the mark in saying matters, often, of national importance. The information that is available as to the pressure on High Court judges makes clear that they are overstrained. That is one side of the picture.

The other side of the picture is that the Upper Tribunal has huge expertise, which except in a very small number of cases is not available to High Court judges. Therefore, it is not apparent that they have the ability to deal with these cases as expeditiously and effectively as the tribunal. The danger in not accepting this amendment is that the desire for excellence could be the enemy of the good, and I urge the Committee to be sympathetic to it. It is my belief that justice can and should be ensured, as it always is in this country when these matters are dealt with by the tribunal as proposed here.I know that those who are responsible for arranging the proper dispatch of business in the different parts of the High Court attach the greatest importance to this amendment. They see it as a lifeline.

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I was not a Member of your Lordships' House at the times when, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded the Committee, similar matters were debated at some length. Therefore, I come to this amendment with an open mind, which creates something of a precedent in my case. I listened very carefully to the Minister's explanation and justification of the amendment and, of course, to the critique of it from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Although many of us have received extensive briefings about various aspects of this Bill and other legislation, I have not received any particular briefing from any of the organisations referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on this point.

I initially leant towards his line of argument, but am comforted in the first instance by the fact that the Lord Chief Justice's role will be critical in initiating any further transfers, as well as by the wisdom and experience of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, of course, who commends the amendment to the Committee. Perhaps when he replies the Minister will indicate whether it is the Government's intention to review progress at some stage, perhaps in conjunction with the Lord Chief Justice, to see whether the fears that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, enunciated are grounded in relativity, and if they are to create an opportunity for a change in policy, either slowing down the additional transfers or possibly rethinking the policy.

As we have been reminded on previous occasions, it is the Government's policy to conduct a post-legislative review within three to five years. Perhaps an indication that that will also be the case in relation to this matter might satisfy-for the time being, at any rate-some of the doubts that have been raised. If it is necessary to step back in the light of experience, that could then happen. For the moment, I am disposed to accept the Government's amendment and rely very heavily on the support given to it by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf.

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Lord McNally: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for that indication of the Opposition's support for this amendment. I gladly give him, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, an assurance that what we are doing will be kept under review in close consultation with the judiciary.

It is true that this matter was discussed in 2009, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, but we have now had three years' experience of the workings of the Upper Tribunal in these areas and we have also had representations from the senior judiciary about how the present system is clogging up the High Court and bringing some of the pressures to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, referred.

I have not taken lightly the decision to bring this back to the House. In a meeting, the president of the Queen's Bench Division and the president of the Upper Tribunal convinced me of two things: first, that we would be taking some pressure off the High Court and High Court judges by doing this; and, secondly, that by moving these cases to the Upper Tribunal we would in no way diminish the quality of justice available. On the contrary, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, indicated, a great deal of the expertise for judging these cases is in the Upper Tribunal.

I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made about the UK Border Agency's withdrawals. There are varied reasons for cases being withdrawn but, coupled with other government reforms, we are getting a better system for dealing with these cases from the UKBA. The senior judiciary is broadly in favour of the amendment as a sensible solution to the backlogs in the High Court and an opportunity to transfer cases to the most appropriate part of the justice system. There has been strong judicial involvement in the discussions preparing for this amendment, and the judiciary is keen to ensure that it is successfully introduced. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, the Lord Chief Justice will be closely involved with the Lord Chancellor in gauging the pace of movement on this so that we get the twin benefits of faster, efficient, high quality justice in immigration cases and some elbow room in the High Court to deal with the important cases that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, mentioned.

I hope the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will be content to take those assurances and to accept that this decision has been taken on the basis of the experience of the past three years, which we believe is entirely favourable to the move that we are making. That is coupled with the assurance that we will keep the matter under review and will be in close contact and consultation with the senior judiciary to ensure that the move is completely in keeping with the access to good justice that is the aim of this amendment.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, can my noble friend answer the question I put to him about how many cases were withdrawn by the UKBA-to correspond with the figures I gave for 2006 and 2007? If a very large number are being withdrawn, and thus the UKBA is conceding that the original decision was wrong, surely that proves that there are other methods of reducing the pressure on the High Court rather than transferring all these cases to the tribunal.

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The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I am not sure that the Minister answered the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the relative inexperience of the Upper Tribunal in immigration. He quotes the wise and the good, and we have heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, but surely we are not making a decision on the basis of advice only but on the actuality of the court over the period.

Lord McNally: The point was made that the Upper Tribunal over the past three years has demonstrated very clearly that it has both the experience and the expertise to deal with these matters. The Upper Tribunal's expertise in reducing backlogs in the Administrative Court has been demonstrated. I do not have the most up-to-date figures on UKBA withdrawals, but in my closing remarks I accepted that one issue was the UKBA's tendency in the past to withdraw objections. Reforms that are being taken forward by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary aim to deal with some of those criticisms of the UKBA.

However, that does not take away the central thrust of this proposal that since 2009 the Upper Tribunal has shown itself to be working well, and we are not rushing our fences in this case. Both the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice will be closely involved in gauging the movement of cases to the Upper Tribunal, but no one has seriously doubted its competence or expertise to deal with these matters. On the contrary, it has shown itself to remarkably efficient at cutting time for dealing with cases, which must be in the interests of justice.

Amendment 135 agreed.