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Public Law Project and University of Exeter release results of six-year observational study of asylum appeal hearings in the First-tier Tribunal


New report finds asylum appeal hearings too often lack fairness and accessibility

Date of Publication:
18 December 2020

Public Law Project and University of Exeter release results of six-year observational study of asylum appeal hearings in the First-tier Tribunal

18 December 2020

The Public Law Project (PLP) and the University of Exeter yesterday released a comprehensive and important new report on asylum appeal hearings that will be of considerable interest to many readers of EIN.

CoverThe 70-page report, Experiencing Asylum Appeal Hearings: 34 Ways to Improve Access to Justice at the First-tier Tribunal, can be downloaded here.

This report is based on detailed observational research work in First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) asylum appeal hearings. Over six years, researchers observed nearly 400 asylum appeal hearings from the public areas of hearing rooms and also interviewed 41 asylum appellants and 19 legal representatives.

The report explains: "Between 2013 and 2019, we conducted ethnographic observations of 390 separate substantive asylum appeal hearings. Detailed handwritten notes, diaries and sketches enabled us to record a wide variety of qualitative aspects of the hearings. Initially we made short trips to eight different hearing centres in the UK (up to fifteen observations each), before focussing on four centres in particular where we carried out more intensive observations (3 mainstream and one Detained Fast Track centre). This included completing a 19-page pro forma during each hearing which allowed us to gather quantitative data on a wide variety of variables, such as case details, participants present, schedules and the behaviour of the participants."

Through their observational research, the PLP and the University of Exeter identified six challenging experiences that appellants commonly reported during their asylum appeals: confusion; anxiety; mistrust; disrespect; communication difficulties; and distraction due to the presence of children. The report dedicates a chapter to exploring each issue.

University of Exeter researcher Jo Hynes also provided a short summary of each issue in a piece on Free Movement yesterday.

Overall, PLP and the University of Exeter found: "Based on our research, we are concerned that the challenge of providing a fair and accessible asylum appeal hearing is often not being met. Too often, little attention is paid to the experiences and perspectives of appellants going through the process."

As the title suggests, the report makes 34 recommendations to improve fairness and access to justice in the First-tier Tribunal. "Our recommendations are aimed at immigration judges, senior judges, the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service, the Home Office and legal representatives for the appellant," the authors state.

In concluding, the report states: "We hope this report can lend weight to arguments for improving access to justice in the immigration and asylum tribunal, as well as offering practical recommendations for how this can be implemented. Whether participants, including appellants, feel justice has been done is important, not simply for maintaining procedural fairness and access to justice, but for longer term public trust in the justice system.

"By drawing on appellant experience, we have highlighted the role of confusion, anxiety, mistrust, disrespect, communication difficulties and distraction in constraining asylum seekers' access to justice. These challenges would not be revealed by an analysis of hearing outcomes or other high-level quantitative data, but can be drawn out through interviews with court users and ethnographic engagement with asylum appeal hearings.

"There is a considerable way to go in order to ensure that access to justice is maintained for all asylum appellants. With this is mind, the recommendations in this report seek to ensure that the asylum appeal process is not only efficient, but is fair and minimises stress for appellants."