Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 80-99)



  80. As regards advisory services in the private sector, there is now a form of registration. Am I not right?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes, and there is a commission which, as it were, inspects and makes sure that the quality of services in relation to immigration is adequate and that people are not able, as it were, to give poor advice to clients in this area.

  81. What about solicitors? There has been some criticism of them, has there not?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) More widely there have been real problems in handling complaints against solicitors. The performance of the Office of Supervision of Solicitors has not been satisfactory both in terms of quality and in terms of turn-around times.

  Chairman: I think we are going to come to that later.

David Winnick

  82. I was dealing with the immigration aspect, but, as the Chairman says, we will come on to that.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I think there have been concerns in the past, but I think the new office of the Immigration Services Commission is now working well and there is better and more effective regulation. It does draw us into the generic issue of complaints and that is the trouble, to see whether they are being handled well, but I think I cannot offer you any more than that at the moment.

Mr Cameron

  83. My apologies for being late. Sir Hayden, I was wondering, people who appeal from abroad, will they be able to claim legal aid?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes, as far as I know, I think they will be. I will have to check that absolutely.[1]

  84. My understanding is that they will be able to. Do you have a concern, as Principal Accounting Officer for the Department, that this is a good use of public money if the Home Secretary has decided they have no foundation for an asylum claim and they return to a safe country?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Were they to be here, as they are now, they would be entitled to claim legal aid and I think it is very difficult to argue in human rights terms and the rest that they should be denied it, so I do not think, as Accounting Officer, I have a problem with that. That seems to me much an issue of policy and if Parliament endorses it, then I think, as Accounting Officer, I am in a reasonably solid position.

  85. In terms of asylum targets, your own asylum target on page 78 of your annual report is to reduce the waiting times for asylum appeals from 36 weeks to 17 weeks and that has now been dropped, that target? Is that right?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) We now have an overall target which we share with the Home Office and the target now is for appeals, 65% of appeals through both tiers of the system to go through in four months, or 17 weeks.

  86. What is the target for the other 35% of cases?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Well, we have tried to set a target that, as it were, deals with the totality in terms of numbers we can get. There will always be certain cases that take much longer.

  87. It does not really deal with the totality if more than a third of cases do not have a target attached to them. That just drifts on.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) That is an average. It applies to all the cases. In other words, we would actually tackle the whole system on the basis that we would try to push them through as fast as possible, but our experience of the longer and more complicated cases leads us to believe that a reasonable target is about 65%.

  88. But it is not an average target on what you are saying because 65% will be dealt with within 17 weeks and the other ones, yes, they are more difficult, but why not have a target for them? It is just as if a third have been dropped out of the total in terms of having a target for them.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) You could do that if you could identify at the start of a case what their characteristic was in such sufficient terms to be able to set targets for different categories of case. As far as I know, we have not been able do that, hence we have this average target across the board. I do not know, Ian, if you want to comment, but I think that is my understanding. I am not trying to avoid the question.

  Mr Cameron: No, but my worry with these targets is that I fear that the Government sets them, there is a blaze of publicity, "Isn't it marvellous the Department is getting on with it!" and then quietly they are amended, dropped, changed and large parts fall out of the system and that is what we are here to check up on.

  Chairman: Well, we are, Mr Cameron, but you were not here.

  Mr Cameron: Yes, and I knew you would pull me up if we had gone over any of this ground already.

  Chairman: Perhaps Sir Hayden wants to respond briefly to that point?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) We had a longish discussion. The position I was saying I have taken on this is that I am sympathetic to your point of view and I think that the complexity of the subject and the fact that they move around a lot is not a good thing. Secondly, we have with the Treasury agreed to focus on a much smaller number of targets and, thirdly, whilst we can give no guarantees that targets will not be changed because they change in reality, what we do want to see is a more consistent pursuit of targets that have been firmed up and settled. I agree that that is our position in relation to targets in the immigration area as well as the targets across the board.

Mr Cameron

  89. It says here that you are not going to meet this amended, easier target of 65% of cases, that it cannot be measured until the end of July 2002, and we are nearly there, but it is unlikely to be met. Why are we not going to meet it?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Because it is a very, very demanding target. The numbers of appeal determinations increased by 75% between the year before last and last year, so you are talking of a massive increase in jurisdiction and people having to do a lot more detailed work. Secondly, the number of cases coming through per month is moving from 4,000, roughly 4,500 now, to 6,000 in November and, therefore, the target will be even harder to reach. My own personal view is that we have really got to have another look at this and make sure—

  90. And change it again?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) No, not necessarily change it again.

  91. It does say here that the target contains LCD, SDA targets for the year 2002-03 onwards, slightly modified, but it does not say how.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) No, but there is maybe a minor change change there, but I am not saying we are going to change it. What I am saying is that if it turned out that the target really was completely unrealistic, then I think it would be right to change it and to explain that change to Parliament and to come to the Committee and say why that was the case. In order to raise our game to 6,000 a month, I think I am right in saying that we need another something like £66 million to be spent on more judiciary, more administration, more IT, plus a whole raft of things, which I will not go into detail on, of changes in process and how the work is done in order to hold the present position. I think this is a very difficult area in a jurisdiction which has grown larger than any legal jurisdiction in this country for a very, very long period of time.

David Winnick

  92. Does not Mr Cameron's question to you, Sir Hayden, indicate what I asked earlier, that where there is little or no merit insofar as those cases are discouraged, and perhaps not just little, but absolutely no merit at all, then of course to that extent one would hope that the system is such that that might be improved and appeals could be heard pretty briskly, which is what people want?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) The more you can push what I call the "manifestly unfounded" cases through the system quickly, that will have a considerable advantage overall, but it is interesting that the number of such cases that were coming through two years ago was, I think, something of the order of 36% of cases and that has fallen quite markedly to about 21% of cases, indicating a judgment that it was not as easy as it had been to certify cases as manifestly unfounded. This followed a court ruling, the name of which I forget, which said basically that those making the decision had to be satisfied that every single element of a case was manifestly unfounded rather than on balance, taking it all together, that was so, and that was a very demanding test, so we have actually now got in the system less a percentage of such relatively uncomplicated cases than before and that has made our task a bit more difficult.


  93. When these appellants are submitting their appeals from abroad, you will have not have to send a lot of lawyers to the Middle East or elsewhere to interview their clients at public expense?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I am hoping not. Then I think Mr Cameron's question to me as Accounting Officer would have some bite.

Mr Cameron

  94. Chairman, may I pursue this? If people are going to be able to appeal, how can they prepare their appeal if they do not have access to lawyers?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Well, they will have access. What I am trying to deal with is the suggestion that, as it were, the flights to various parts of the world will be full of lawyers going backwards and forwards at public expense, to which I am saying I hope that that is not the situation which would arise, that other means of giving advice can be found.

  95. But in order to prepare a case properly, surely they have to have a face-to-face contact? You cannot do it all by e-mail and telephone, can you?
  (Mr Magee) I cannot be certain about this and we may have to check our facts here, but I think, for example, we have used video links successfully to deal with some proportion of these sorts of cases already. What our concern is is obviously to ensure that we do not incur the sort of gratuitous cost you are implying.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) As I understand it, and I hope it is right and I will correct it to the Committee if I am wrong, people of course have arrived here and they will be interviewed and be able to have access to a lawyer when they are here before they are sent away, so it is not as though there will be, as it were, no face-to-face opportunity to have a look at the case individually. After that clearly if there needs to be regular communication and further preparation, we are going to have to find some economical ways of doing that.

David Winnick

  96. But the advisory service will be available surely to those seeking to lodge an appeal from abroad?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes, as far as I know.

  97. The advisory service, publicly funded?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes.

  98. That is your understanding?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) That is my understanding, yes.

  Chairman: Now we move to the Libra project.

Bridget Prentice

  99. Just about two months ago, the Lord Chancellor said that the discussions with Fujitsu "will be concluded shortly". Are they yet concluded?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) No, they are not, I am afraid, yet concluded. We are still negotiating with them about the existing contract and I hope they will be concluded very, very shortly, but I am afraid I am not in a position to announce that to the Committee today.

  Bridget Prentice: How shortly is "very, very shortly"?

1   See Ev 49. Back

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