Applications and hearings to be conducted remotely from 25 March, face to face hearings to end
President of the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) provides details of changes to the Tribunal due to the Covid-19 outbreak
21 March 2020
The President of the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) has today written to the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association (ILPA) with details of the changes to the functioning of the Tribunal due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
As stated by President Clements, there will be no face to face hearings in the Tribunal from Wednesday, 25 March. The Tribunal will instead move to a system of remote hearings using, for example, Skype.
The judiciary has produced useful guidance on remote hearings, which you can access here.
On Friday, ILPA published a reply by the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) stating: "a decision has been taken to cancel all listed UTIAC cases, these now include JR, Age Assessments, appeals and regional cases with the odd exception due to alternative arrangements having already been made. All parties in all cases will be formally notified."
President Clements' letter on the new First-tier Tribunal arrangements is below.
Dear Ms Lenegan,
COVID-19 and the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber)
The email dated 19 March 2020 from Charles Bishop, the Legal and Parliamentary Officer at the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association, seeking guidance on COVID-19 and the position of the First-tier Tribunal in the light of the current health emergency, has been passed to me for response. I have also seen a copy of a letter from members of the Immigration Bar to the current Chair of the Bar, Ms A Pinto QC. Both raise concerns regarding the safety and well-being of court and tribunal users and seek guidance about the conduct of hearings in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber.
We continue to provide essential access to justice at our hearing centres in these challenging times. We are mindful of guidance from the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals, the government and NHS England and we are determined to ensure that in deciding appeals we do all we can to minimise any risk to all those who attend. Steps already taken in our centres include an enhanced cleaning regime, greatly reduced float lists and a prompt and pragmatic response to adjournment requests made in those cases where appellants, witnesses or others are unwell or need to self-isolate in accordance with health guidance. The Resident Judges at the London hearing centres have written to the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association to encourage representatives to make contact with the Tribunal in any case where there is a need for special case management for COVID-19 related reasons.
We have also decided that on Monday and Tuesday, 23rd and 24th March, the Tribunal will list only a handful of substantive appeals in each hearing centre. This will give us all an opportunity to apply guidance regarding social distancing and minimise the risks associated with close contact and crowded public areas. London is the epicentre of the pandemic. The reduction in lists at Taylor House and Hatton Cross will be substantial and will allow an appropriate distance between courts, the use of empty rooms for parties to wait in and adjustments to hearing rooms so that those required to be present can maintain the recommended separation from each other of about two metres.
From Wednesday, 25th March onwards, there will be no face to face hearings listed in any centre. Applications for bail and emergency work will continue to be given priority but, save in exceptional circumstances, applications and hearings will be conducted remotely.
The Senior President of Tribunals wrote to all tribunal judges and members on 17 March regarding remote working and the directions and administrative instructions required to make this possible.
We are working hard to put the necessary arrangements in place and within the next few days we expect to send notice to the parties in all cases that they should engage with us so that wherever possible evidence and submissions are lodged by electronic means. Remote case management will follow so that our judges may decide whether individual appeals may be decided without a hearing, in accordance with our Procedure Rules and, if not, whether a hearing may proceed remotely by means of Skype, Microsoft Teams or similar technology.
These steps are fully consistent with the Reform project and we expect to make full use of the online digital-platform we are piloting across the jurisdiction in the coming weeks. We have been greatly encouraged by the constructive approach taken by experienced solicitors and counsel which have led, in the last 48 hours, to hearings listed at Manchester and Taylor House where one or both parties will attend remotely and where skilful use of technology will enable the judge to assess the evidence and decide the appeal. I am confident that we will build on these early steps so that remote working as the default position, as required by the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals, will be fully achieved in early course.
I am acutely aware that court users in our jurisdiction can be especially vulnerable and that those required to attend often include interpreters, family members, care workers, foster carers and others in addition to the appellants themselves and the parties' representatives. All who attend must be safe. With my leadership judges, I will take all necessary steps to ensure that this is so.
The measures outlined in this letter amount to a radical transformation of the way in which we work in the IAC. The current crisis requires such a response. In the coming weeks and months we will work as closely as we can with professional colleagues and others to maintain the rule of law and access to justice in our tribunal.
President, First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber)