Solicitor advocate Mike Dailly has slammed the UK government’s proposed increase of more than 500 per cent in asylum and immigration tribunal fees, saying that “Securing a fair and just outcome should never depend upon your bank balance.”
Dominic Raab MP yesterday told the House of Commons that it is “no longer reasonable to expect the taxpayer to fund around 75 per cent of the costs of immigration and asylum proceedings”.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has launched a consultation on the fee changes, which runs until 3 June 2016.
The government’s proposal is to increase fees in the First-tier Tribunal from £80 to £490 for an application for a decision on the papers and from £140 to £800 for an application for an oral hearing.
There would be a new fee of £455 for an application to the First-tier Tribunal for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal.
The government further proposes a fee of £350 for an application to the Upper Tribunal for permission to appeal, where permission has been refused by the First-tier Tribunal, and a fee of £510 for an appeal hearing where permission is granted.
But Mr Dailly, solicitor advocate at Govan Law Centre, told Scottish Legal News that the MoJ’s deficit was “no justification” for the proposed increase.
He said: “The deficit is politically imposed. Access to justice has long since been recognised as a constitutional right in Scotland and the UK, and as such, should never be subject to the caprice of politically imposed decisions from the Treasury which will have the effect of creating further barriers to justice.
“The flaw in the MoJ’s position – and indeed this applies to the Scottish government – is the idea that there should be ‘full cost recovery’ as a business model in accessing our courts and tribunals. In other words, the notion that litigants should pay for it all. This approach crept in during the 1990s and successful legal challenges saw the introduction of court fee exemptions – exemptions which aren’t robust enough.”
He added: “Access to justice can’t operate on the same business model as a supermarket or shop because it isn’t selling a commodity, it’s offering a fundamental constitutional and human right. Securing a fair and just outcome should never depend upon your bank balance. The MoJ has already been successfully challenged on its residence test, and we have seen how employment tribunal fees has undermined access to justice for workers across the UK.
“This proposal is deeply flawed, and creating artificial financial barriers for those seeking asylum will undermine our credibility in relation to our international legal obligations.”
Mr Raab told MPs: “We are mindful of the fact that some applicants will face difficulties in paying these fees, so to make sure that the burden of funding the system is shared as fairly as possible we will continue to exempt from fees those in particularly vulnerable positions.
“This includes those who qualify for legal aid or asylum support; those who are appealing against a decision to deprive them of their citizenship; and those children bringing appeals to the tribunal who are being supported by a local authority.
“We will also extend our exemptions to protect children being housed by the local authority and the parents of children receiving local authority support. In addition, we are consulting on further extensions to the exemptions scheme in this consultation to make sure we continue to protect the most vulnerable.”