Guidance issued by one of Britain’s highest, dedicated immigration courts banning in-person hearings amid the coronavirus pandemic has been deemed unlawful. The President of the Upper Tribunal for Immigration and Asylum Claims (UTIAC) had told the court that UK immigration appeals should be determined ‘based on the paperwork’ amid COVID-19.
The UTIAC President was responding to the first coronavirus lockdown, aiming to avoid having to have people turn up in person for an appeal hearing. The President of the UTIAC said it wasn’t even necessary for people to appear via video link.
However, this was challenged by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) based on years of government action that had made it harder for UK migrants and asylum seekers to appeal against UK immigration rulings and access legal advice.
Hundreds of appeals determined without hearing
The JCWI claims that since the guidance was issued, hundreds of asylum and human rights appeals have been adjudicated without a hearing, with many of the rulings often concerning the right to remain in the UK and likely to have life-changing consequences for those involved.
In June 2019, Workpermit.com reported that half of UK visa and immigration decisions made by the Home Office are overturned on appeal. The JCWI highlighted that this statistic alone highlights the crucial nature of a full and fair hearing.
Justice Fordham of the High Court in London ruled that the UTIAC President’s guidance was unlawful. Fordham said: “The cases in question were error of law appeals, where it is argued that a judge applied the law incorrectly.”
“Communicating that these cases should normally be decided on the basis of the papers presented in a case rather than at remote hearings, and in neglecting to have proper regard to the importance of them to the individuals, the guidance conflicted with basic common law requirements of procedural fairness and misstated the law,” Fordham added.
Legal director at JCWI, Nicola Burgess, said: “Ensuring migrants get an in-person hearing at the UTIAC is so important. This is a court which hears cases of fundamental importance to the individual concerned, for whom it is often a matter of life and limb, and for the public.”
“Everyone has an equal right to their day in court, this is a fundamental pillar of justice. “The guidance note has been declared unlawful as it is inconsistent with basic common law principles of fairness, including the need to uphold the rule of law,” Burgess added.
Despite the risks involved with people travelling to and from UK immigration appeal hearings amid the coronavirus pandemic, the JCWI said that it had challenged the guidance to ‘give affected individuals access to a fair procedure,’ while stopping a precedent being set for further UK immigration and asylum claims to be decided without in-person hearings.
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