Immigration and Appeals (Procedure) (Amendment) Rules 2001

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Simon Hughes: Will the guidelines that the Minister has just set out be published and publicly available? She set out the sort of considerations involved, in a reasonable way. Will what she has told the Committee be available to advisers and Opposition colleagues in the form of a formal guidance document?

Ms Winterton: I understand from the Home Office that there are enforcement manuals that are designed to guide immigration officers in how to conduct the delivery of decisions in person. The continuing process of assessment of a particular country is not dealt with in the same way. Decisions such as that made in the recent case concerning Zimbabwe would be communicated through different mechanisms. I will check with the Home Office whether those manuals are available publicly.

We are currently drawing up the guidance in the evaluation stage. It will be monitored, reviewed and evaluated as to its effectiveness. I ask hon. Members to factor that into the equation when considering the

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issue. What we have at present is not necessarily what we might learn from experience down the line. That deals with the initial stage of delivery of decisions.

Both hon. Gentlemen talked about the speed of delivery, which will be prompt. The Home Office has undertaken to serve decisions within a maximum of six weeks. That is a firm undertaking. The target is to issue the majority of postal decisions within two working days. To date, 96 per cent. have been sent within 24 hours. There is an undertaking to deliver decisions in person within six weeks. If they are not delivered in that time, they will be sent by post and delivered within two weeks wherever possible.

Concern about notification to legal advisers has been expressed in Committee and in the other place last night, and it is important. I hope that it will reassure hon. Members to know that in all cases under the rules the appellant's legal representative will be sent a copy of the appeal determination. Again, that will be prompt. In cases of personal delivery, the decision will be faxed to the legal representative within 24 hours of delivery of the decision to the appellant. When delivery is by post, the legal representative's copy will be sent out at the same time as the appellant's.

I can reassure hon. Members that no one will be removed from the country before they have had an opportunity to consult a lawyer. The Home Office guarantees that failed asylum seekers will have the opportunity to contact a legal adviser before removal. If a failed asylum seeker is taken into detention, the Home Office will pay for telephone calls to a solicitor. The details of the Immigration Advisory Service and Refugee Legal Centre are posted in all removal centres in many languages.

The new rules make no difference to the availability of further legal remedies after the end of the appeal process. There will continue to be the opportunity to seek a review of the decision by the chief adjudicator or the Immigration Appeal Tribunal, and the opportunity to bring judicial review. If an unsuccessful asylum seeker applies for judicial review to the High Court, the Home Office will not remove that person from the United Kingdom for at least three working days to allow the application to be made. The administrative court office will accept the application by fax. If an application for judicial review is made, the Home Office will not remove the applicant from the United Kingdom until that application is determined. I hope that that provides some reassurance.

Simon Hughes: I am grateful to the Minister, as she is being helpful, but I have questions on two matters about that procedure. First, after the decisions have been served and people have been notified, will they always be told that they have a right to further legal advice? Will they know that there is an independent record of that—that there is a book in which someone could check who gave them that information and whether they had decided to take it up?

Secondly, so we are clear about the timetable, the Minister said that the facts of the case would be sent to legal representatives within 24 hours, with a maximum

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of three days in which to submit a case for judicial review. I understand, from her comments and from those made yesterday, that there will in every case be three working days between service of the decision and any removal action. That would ensure that, once the legal advisers had received the material, there would be a further two days in which individuals and their lawyers could hold consultations and reach a decision. If the three days do not necessarily have to be working days, and weekends and bank holidays and Christmas can be included in the period, the protection may not be sufficient.

Ms Winterton: The guidance for the immigration officials will make it clear that if the legal adviser has been notified and the appellant requests further legal advice, and if there is a clear indication from the legal adviser that there are considered to be good grounds for an application for judicial review, and one is planned, there will be no removal. The removal will not take place until the judicial review has been attended to.

Mr. Malins: May I press the Minister on that point, because she has not given us a complete answer on the issue of whether the three days would be working days. One is naturally concerned about both the unrepresented and the represented appellant, but particularly the former. It is possible to find three consecutive days that are not working days—it happens a lot. There can be no harm in confirming that the period is one of three working days. It would ensure that the appellant has the opportunity properly to seek legal advice.

Will the Minister also confirm that, whether unrepresented or represented, people will be told that they have a right to legal advice, and that a record will be kept of the opportunities provided to them to contact legal advisers?

Ms Winterton: I am afraid that I cannot say whether the three days will be working days, because I do not know the answer. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is envisaging a situation in which a bank holiday or a day on which the legal office is closed intervenes. I will, however, undertake to write to hon. Members on that point, and on the hon. Gentleman's last point, about which I am slightly unclear.

Mr. Malins: The last point was about making certain, by way of a record, that the appellant had been told of their right to seek legal advice.

Ms Winterton: I will ensure that information about those two issues is passed on to colleagues in the Home Office.

Simon Hughes: I have checked quickly. The issues will not be governed by the rules, but by the policy applying to them. Both Opposition parties formally request that the period be one of three working days and that there be a record of requests for legal advice. The issue of the three working days is important, because if an office is not at work, the legal adviser will have no opportunity to respond and the person will be removed from the country.

Ms Winterton: As I understand matters, the guidance will make it clear to immigration officers

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that they must be satisfied that representations that an asylum seeker or failed asylum seeker wanted made have indeed been made, and that the legal adviser knows about that. I shall certainly pass on the point that has been made, and it may well be Home Office Ministers who respond.

I am glad that Opposition Members have welcomed the phased approach. I confirm that we are not rushing immediately to deliver all final appeal decisions. The new method of delivering appeal decisions in person is being implemented gradually. I re-emphasise that we are being careful to test the new procedures before they are rolled out extensively. We want a robust, fair system. As I have said, there will be evaluations and reviews. I shall certainly pass on the request for Opposition parties and other interested bodies to be kept informed about the progress of the review. There will be a full evaluation of the policy in March, as was explained in another place yesterday.

On consultation and the laying of the rules, we have complied with the necessary procedures. The new rules were laid before Parliament on 17 December 2001 and came into force on 7 January 2002. That is in accordance with the normal 21-day rule for this type of secondary legislation. There have always been claims by hon. Members of insufficient time for proper consultation about rules laid before a recess. However, things have been done in accordance with normal procedure and as provided for in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

We consulted the Council on Tribunals, as required by statute, at the end of November. I can confirm that copies of the relevant material will be placed in the Library. Before laying the rules we consulted the chief adjudicator and the president of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. As soon as the rules were laid, copies were sent to all relevant and interested organisations, including Asylum Aid, the Immigration Advisory Service, the Refugee Council, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Refugee Legal Centre. I notice that the Law Society is not mentioned in the list that I have been given, but I shall check whether it was sent copies. Out of the corner of my eye, I see someone nodding, so I suspect that the Law Society was sent copies of the rules. Of course, I take on board the point that we must keep in close contact with such organisations in the monitoring and evaluation of how the rules work.

Simon Hughes: Of course, the letter of the law was complied with. However, the Minister knows that there was no chance to have a debate before the proposals became law, given that the rules were laid on the Monday and published on the Tuesday before Christmas, with Parliament rising the next day. I do not know how the documents were sent, but if they were sent by post, they would certainly not have arrived before the recess. It reminds me of the famous consultation on education policy that started on 25 July and ended on 3 September. The reality is that people are not around at that time.

Will the Minister suggest to her Department that complying with the rules is fine, but giving people a real opportunity to respond is what is intended?

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