Examination of Witnesses(Questions 80-99)|
TUESDAY 23 JULY 2002
PHILLIPS GCB, MR
CB AND MS
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
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.
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
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.
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
(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
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.
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
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.
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
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I am hoping not. Then I think
Mr Cameron's question to me as Accounting Officer would have some
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
(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.
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.
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
Bridget Prentice: How shortly is "very,
1 See Ev 49. Back