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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, has said. We are grateful that there has been some improvement in Clause 14. The Government ought to be congratulated as far as that is concerned. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said, the period of five working days is wholly inadequate. The purpose behind my support for these amendments is to improve rather than diminish the practicability and effectiveness of this clause. It is the view of the Law Society that the amendments that have been moved are likely to be more realistic in the circumstances. As the Law Society has contended, the crucial matter is that justice should be done and be seen to be done. Speed is significant, but it is not the whole argument. For that reason, I support the proposal of 10 working days.

The time limit is in many cases impracticable, and it will have the unfortunate consequence of persuading more applicants to apply to the court for an extension of the statutory time limit. The essential issue is that the case ought to be properly prepared and presented; that cannot be done in five working days. I speak from some experience as far as this provision is concerned, both direct and indirect. We are talking about people's right to present their case properly. There have been many incidences of this concern in practice.

The amendment is supported by the Law Society for the reasons that I have elaborated. As I understand it, the Law Society has explained its purpose to Ministers. What have Ministers said to the Law Society in response? The House is entitled to know. After all, the Law Society is concerned—as is the Bar Council—to make these provisions practicable and enforceable. I
 
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hope, notwithstanding the initial response, that my noble friend will have second thoughts about this important matter.

Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I rise to speak only briefly, reminding the House, as I did when I spoke in the original debate on the ouster clause, that I am chairman of the Council on Tribunals, which I hope may be seen as a qualifying interest, rather than a disqualifying interest in this context.

Looking carefully in the direction of the Minister, I wish to express my support—and I think I can safely say the support of the Council on Tribunals—for some extension of this five-day rule. Like everyone else, we focused our principal attention on the original ouster clause, and share the gratitude of all that it has disappeared in its original form.

However, this was one of the various points of detail on which we had focused. I can only say that we believe—I certainly do—that five days is much too short a period to obtain proper advice about applying for a review and help in preparing it, and much too short a period for an appellant with no means of obtaining advice or assistance. In general, there is a risk that this would run contrary to what we would all agree, however difficult the problem, should be an open and proportionate system of review.

I do not think that I need to say more, but I hope that we shall receive a positive response from the Minister. Whether 10 days is the right figure is not a matter that I would want to die in a ditch on, but I am clear that five days is too little. I hope that the Government will be prepared to look at this again.

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, I support the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I am grateful for some of the changes that the Government have made in Clause 14. They have gone some way to satisfying some of the objections that some of us have had. In my view, they have not yet gone far enough. I am particularly bothered about the five-day limit. I do not believe that it is workable. A much-respected immigration solicitor in the city of Newcastle, where I live and work, says that she spends some 20 hours preparing a case with a client. She believes that her job will no longer be viable if these regulations are to come in. In an asylum system that anyway is operating with a culture of disbelief, how on earth will vulnerable people be able fully and effectively to put forward their evidence within those five working days of the notification of the decision?

Grounds of appeal prepared in great haste do not give the best material on which to make difficult decisions. The five-day limit is not a proposal for a fair system, let alone an effective one. Therefore, I strongly support this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am glad that the right reverend Prelate has raised the question of the time that is required to obtain the legal advice that is necessary, because this is a matter that has been raised with all your Lordships by the Refugee Children's
 
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Consortium. It says that this is a universal problem. It is not just the particular adviser who has informed the right reverend Prelate of this problem; all advisers are in the same boat. They already must spend a great deal of time accessing legal advice on behalf of their clients, and these regulations will make life almost impossible.

In the representation that the consortium has made to your Lordships, it says that its staff already spend hours on the telephone seeking a legal representative, or to make an appointment with a legal representative. The first lawyer that they approach many not be willing to take the case on, and there may be several iterations of the calls. The original lawyer who dealt with the case at an earlier stage may not be prepared to act in this instance.

It is almost universally agreed that the time limit of five days is impossible. It was referred to particularly in the JCHR sixth report of session 2003–04, which says that,

They say that it falls short of international standards of fairness, while seriously compromising the ability of asylum applicants to access their rights of appeal. Faced with this barrage of opinion from all quarters, I cannot imagine that the Home Office will stick with its original decision. It must bow to the weight of professional and legal opinion and make the concession that my noble friend has asked for.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, may I remind noble Lords of my interest in this subject? I am a lay member—currently an endangered species—of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. I support the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, and all the other noble Lords who have spoken in favour of this amendment. Already the number of lawyers who are registered as being allowed to represent asylum seekers is limited and, from my own knowledge, they are extremely hard-working and hard-worked individuals. If they are not given time to prepare a case properly it is going to defeat the objective of this Bill, which is to speed up decision-making, so I offer my support.

Lord Plant of Highfield: My Lords, I intervene as a member of the Joint Human Rights Committee, whose report the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has just mentioned. The Committee deliberated long and hard about the new clause and all its various ramifications, and we looked at a great deal of evidence. I remind noble Lords, with their indulgence, of precisely what the Committee said on page 21 of its recent report; it is pretty categorical. It stated:

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We come to the conclusion that this provision may in effect impede the idea of a right of access to the higher courts.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, it is obviously desirable that any time limit should be fair, but it is even more important that it is practical. If it fails in that, there is a real risk it will defeat itself, and there will come before the necessary authorities something that may be looked upon as half-baked. To bake it properly will waste time, which will be due entirely to the defect that has been pointed out. The offer to increase the five days by another five is an extremely reasonable and sensible approach, which involves the Government in no cost of any significance.


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