New immigration plan risks making a mockery of British fair play
Proposed changes to the asylum system would undermine access to justice and the rule of law, the Law Society of England and Wales warned as it responded to a Home Office consultation on its new plan for immigration.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said:
“The Home Office plans for the asylum system pose a serious threat to the rule of law as well as undermining access to justice and making a mockery of British fair play.
“Everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. Penalising asylum-seekers who reach our shores by so-called irregular routes, such as by boat, would overturn this principle and risk breaching international law by creating a two-tier asylum system. The government appears not to appreciate the severity of this risk.”
The Refugee Convention* – to which the UK is a signatory – recognises that people fleeing persecution may have to use irregular means to travel and should not be penalised for this.
I. Stephanie Boyce said:
“The purported aim of preventing people smuggling networks is important, but it is critical the law does not punish the victims of criminal networks. Punishing victims of crime is not acceptable in a civilised, democratic country which upholds the rule of law.
“The proposals seek to push asylum-seekers who reach the UK by irregular routes into destitution or homelessness as a way of coercing them to leave the country. Extremely vulnerable people who are seeking asylum are exercising their legal right to escape human rights abuses – to penalise them in this way could constitute a further abuse.”
Proposals that would limit access to the court and rights to appeal would remove critical safeguards from a system which makes life and death decisions. A so-called ‘one-stop process’ would be impracticable, unrealistic and a barrier to accessing justice for many people.
I. Stephanie Boyce added:
“The independence of our legal system underpins Britain’s standing internationally, our reputation for democracy and fair play. That independence hinges in part on lawyers being able to do their job without prejudice and to represent their clients, whomever they may be, according to the laws of the land.
“The suggestion of so-called ‘good faith’ requirements for lawyers working in asylum is not only a nonsense, it would also undermine trust in the justice system. Asylum solicitors are already bound by the highest ethical and professional standards – they are highly regulated, not just by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, but also by the Ministry of Justice’s own Legal Aid Agency.
“The proposals individually and collectively lack credibility because they are not supported by evidence, detail and perhaps – most damningly – they muddle immigration, asylum and nationality laws. Combined with the lack of rationale or information on how the proposals could realistically operate in practice, this has made it well-nigh impossible to provide a substantial or detailed response to many of the consultation questions.
“The rule of law and access to justice should underpin any reform of the asylum system. The proposals risk seriously infringing both these pillars of our democracy. Any changes should be well-evidenced, coherent and take a trauma-informed approach, reflecting the experiences of people seeking asylum in the UK.”
Notes to editors
*Article 31 of the 1951 Refugee Convention
- 45% of asylum appeals were successful in the year to March 2020 - the highest success rate in the last decade - reflecting poor initial decision-making by the Home Office
- 51,905 people were awaiting an outcome on their initial claim for asylum at the end of March 2020. Of these, 61% had been waiting for more than six months. The vast majority are banned from working until their claim is accepted and in the meantime are entitled to Home Office support equivalent to £5.39 per day
- The UK has resettled around 26,000 refugees over the last five years, in contrast to the 26 million refugees around the world who cannot apply directly for resettlement in the UK and must be selected by NGOs
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