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Lord Harris of Greenwich: Many of us welcome the fact that the Minister has said that he will look at the matter again without commitment. The Minister must recognise that none of us favours an endless series of appeals on precisely the same issue. Clearly, that would be an abuse of the system.

I want to raise two points. First, I would be grateful if the Minister could answer the point put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. Is there a precedent for the power being given to a Minister to bring an appeal process to an end? That may be impossible to answer, given the constraints of time.

Secondly, like my noble friends Lord Avebury and Lady Williams of Crosby, I believe that the adjudicator could be the person to make the determination rather than the Secretary of State. Otherwise, there will inevitably be a belief that the Secretary of State is acting as judge in a matter in which it would be inappropriate for him to make the final judgment. I can see no difficulty about allowing the adjudicator to make that decision. I do not want to press the point today, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will review the matter. Inevitably we shall want to return to it on Report. The quality of the Bill might be improved if the Government were to make concessions, which would be welcomed by all.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: That is a most generous approach, as I invariably expect from the noble Lord. I shall certainly look at the proposal. Any tinkering is likely not to produce the result that we all want. All noble Lords who have spoken have adopted that view.

Perhaps I should respond to the wholly unfair question from the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, accusing me of possessing a vast reservoir of legal knowledge. Experienced as I am in paddling in extremely shallow waters, I shall take up what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said and carry out some research. I am sure that there are examples--I can think of one or two--but, to my mind, they may not be

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the most compelling. I shall certainly look into the matter. I am sure I can find some. I almost said dredge some up. I shall look at them and take up the offer of the noble Lord.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Williams of Crosby moved Amendment No. 118:


Page 41, line 34, at end insert--
("(11) Nothing in this section shall apply to an appellant who was not legally represented at the time of his original appeal.").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 118 is simple but, like the last amendment, important. It provides that the dismissal of the entire appeal process, implicit in Clause 64, will not occur if the original appeal has been held without the applicant having legal advice.

In the course of the Bill we have discussed the extreme importance of the applicant having legal advice. All noble Lords recognise how incredibly complex immigration law has now become, made yet more complicated by the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. Anyone familiar with immigration laws knows that they need a comprehensive understanding of British law, some understanding of European conventions, some understanding of international conventions and some understanding of the immigration rules, which are being revised at the present time, as well as codes and conducts of practice.

That means that someone who may not be an English speaker, who may have arrived in this country in a state of great stress and strain and who has little knowledge of any of the matters I have briefly outlined, is in no position to make out his or her own case, however strong that case may be. That is why on these Benches we strongly accept and support the idea that legal aid should be given only to recognised and registered practitioners and to well established centres of legal advice.

We recognise that the sheer complexities of immigration law are an open door to some of the most dubious, racketeering and undesirable practitioners of the law that one could want to meet. Incidentally, some of them hang around ports in the hope of persuading innocent asylum seekers to accept their services. Often those services are not worth the time of day, let alone the considerable costs which asylum seekers are driven to pay. We are all familiar with such terrible cases where the legal representative does not show up or does not give the proper advice, or does not bother to try to give the proper advice. In all those matters we are wholly on the side of the Government.

The point of the amendment is that if an asylum seeker tries to handle his own hearing, perhaps because he cannot afford legal advice or does not have a decent legal adviser, he will find it extremely difficult to make out a case in a way that fully reflects the facts of that case. If he attends an initial hearing, where he will

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probably not be represented, and continues to a first appeal, where again he may not be represented--this amendment deals only with people who have no legal advice--the curtailing of appeal rights will mean that he can have no further voice in the matter and will be deported to a country where he may be at risk of life and limb. We believe that that is acceptable only in a situation where the asylum seeker has had decent legal representation.

The purpose of the amendment is to propose that while we accept the curtailing of the appeal process to a single one-stop appeal, we do not feel able to accept and support that position in the event of an asylum seeker having no legal advice at all at either the first or second and final stage of the hearing. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: It is suggested that we discuss Amendment No. 120, standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Astor, together with Amendment No. 118. My only hesitation about giving total support to Amendment No. 118--I hope the Minister will not think it unfair of me--is that it goes some way to making the use of lawyers compulsory. I am hesitant about that. I accept the point that immigration law is now incredibly complicated, made more so as a result of these provisions, but Amendment No. 120 suggests that when an immigration officer serves a notice on an applicant, the notice should specifically advise that legal advice should be sought on receipt of such a notice. That does not make it compulsory but it encourages applicants to go for legal advice and makes clear that it is legally advisable before they become entangled in the appeals process, which might have enormous consequences for them.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I support the tenor of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, though his amendment does not go as far as I would wish. Telling people that legal advice is available is a useful first step; but in most cases, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said, it is desirable that an appellant should be properly represented at a hearing.

My difficulty with Amendment No. 118 is that it could lead to circumstances where someone deliberately chose not to be represented so that the other parts of the section in which this was included would not then apply. It could therefore be used as an instrument of obstruction and achieve some of the undesirable possibilities described by the noble Baroness that she would not want to support.

The basic argument that someone should be properly represented during proceedings is the right one and if a more felicitous form of wording could be devised to ensure that it is not open to abuse, it is an argument which we should take seriously.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful for what has been said. I do not believe that there is a fundamental difference of approach between us.

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If Amendment No. 118 was adopted, the mischief identified by the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Cope, would be available. We are looking to prevent repetitious or late claims of no merit. It would be wrong to avoid further opportunities by allowing someone to say, "I do not want to be represented".

I am happy to remind the Committee that when notices of an appealable decision are served, the applicant has to be given, by virtue of the Immigration Appeals Notices Regulations 1984--I repeat, "must" be given--details of how to obtain free representation. It is not right then that applicants can deliberately avoid the consequences of Clause 63 simply by electing to represent themselves.

Taking up the point made by the noble Baroness, there is nothing to stop the unscrupulous adviser acting outside the system taking rapacious amounts of money and saying, "My best advice to you is to turn up without representation". That is an obvious mischief which could be the consequence of her amendment. But I ought to go further and say what the practice is.

Adjudicators will not normally allow a case to proceed without representation unless satisfied that the appellant is able to argue his case--I take her point about him not being familiar with the English language. Sometimes the case is adjourned for representation to be arranged; on other occasions a duty counsellor is called in. That is what happens at the moment. I hope I have been able to reassure the Committee as to how the system works; how it is intended to work in the future; and how Amendment No. 118 would produce undesirable consequences.

I am entirely in agreement with what has been said in relation to Amendment No. 120; that those who are given notice should be advised to obtain legal assistance. But we go further and say that the legal adviser must be a qualified person by virtue of Clause 74, about which we have spoken on earlier occasions. Clause 64(9) provides for regulations to prescribe the procedures for serving notices. It is more appropriate for this point to be covered in regulations and I am happy to undertake to the Committee that that will be done.


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