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In essence, I agree with the central thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has said: we want the right decisions to be made in INDthat is easy to say but not easy to doand for them to be made as expeditiously as possible. That is the aim of the policy and the aim of the process. We are committed to high-quality decisions being made in IND for obvious reasons; it will lead to a more robust system.
We have introduced a range of measures to improve the quality of the decisions it takes. These include work on identifying the right candidates for asylum casework; looking at additional ways of strengthening the training and development of caseworkers; having samples of asylum decisions quality assured by senior caseworkers and external assessors; extending the
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feedback we obtain from appeal decisions; and doing further work on the country information products and instructions we issue.
While we consider the quality of initial decisions to be good we accept that more can be done and we are taking active steps in this area. In taking forward this work we are keen to involve outside help, as appropriateas we are doing, for example, with the UNCHR. However, I do not consider that primary legislation is the appropriate vehicle for this.
Let me say a little more about what we are doing in regard to some of the specific issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. All asylum caseworkers attend a three-day intensive training course following their basic asylum training. After that, they have an opportunity to sit in on live interviews and the first interviews they themselves conduct will also be observed by a senior officer or an experienced colleague. There is also a certain amount of "learning on the job" as a typical asylum caseworker may conduct around 200 interviews during the course of a year.
There is a substantial cultural diversity in the workforce of IND, which is desirable given the wide range of nationalitiesin excess of 150with which it deals. Wherever operationally possible, we offer an interviewer of the same gender as the applicant upon request. Where a request has been made in advance, there has been no difficulty in doing this. If the request is made on the day, we still do our best to comply.
It is standard practice to keep an accurate, verbatim and legible manuscript record of the interview and to provide the applicant with a copy of the same at the end of the interview. Under current procedures, the interviewing officer has the discretion to allow a read-back of the interview to vulnerable applicants. Our experience is that the present system works well and that there is little demand for interviews to be read back generally. Any complaint about the accuracy of the interview record may be made after the interview and may also be raised at appeal if asylum is refused. We have received very few complaints about the conduct and the manuscript recording of interviews.
In many cases the person conducting the interview will be the person who decides the claim. This clearly has some advantages. However, with caseworkers being absent on leave or training and with some caseworkers working part-time, it would be operationally inefficient for the system to be too rigid and to always have the interviewer as the decision maker. It is possible for a person who has not interviewed the applicant to reach a decision on the claim, given that he or she will have available the full interview record and the relevant background information.
We recognise that accurate, balanced country information is vital to an effective system. As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, indicated, the 2002 Act established the advisory panel, and the UNHCR has cited the creation of the panel as an example of good practice. The panel's work has demonstrated that it is fulfilling its function in a robust and effective manner and the Home Office is keen to respond positively to its
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recommendations. With the assistance of the panel, we are confident that we can ensure that Home Office country material meets the highest standards.
Careful consideration is given to medical evidence bearing out allegations of torture. We are delighted that the Medical Foundation now provides regular workshops to asylum caseworkers to better equip them to interview victims of torture and to take proper account of medical evidence when reaching a decision on an applicant's claim.
The other elements of the amendment relate to an independent inspector. We do not consider that an inspector needs to be appointed. As I have outlined, we have many measures in hand to improve further the quality of original decision making and we are involving outside bodies in that work where appropriate. We believe that the quality of decision making is goodit has certainly significantly improved over the past seven years or soand we are satisfied that the new appeal structure will provide a robust, independent means of challenging adverse decisions.
I turn now to deal with some of the other points raised in the debate. As to torture, our country reports reflect a wide range of information and sources, including Amnesty International, in regard to conditions in particular countries, and we take account of medical reports and reports from the Medical Foundation when assessing asylum claims. As to Home Office presenting officers, we wish to have presenting officers at as high a percentage as possible of appeals before the IAT, for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord McNally.
We do not believe that primary legislation is the place for these measures. However, many if not all of them are proper goals of policy and of management and we are working to achieve them. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will withdraw his amendment.
Lord McNally: My Lords, two matters always encourage the mover of an amendment: one is a steady stream of papers coming from the officials' box and the other is the quality of supporting speakers. I have had both with this amendment.
As the noble Countess, Lady Mar, said, I realise that some of the objectives may be matters for practice and training rather than legislation. I shall study the Minister's reply before deciding how to take this forward at Third Reading.
Having listened to those who have worked on this subject, I should tell the Minister that part of the problem at the initial stage has been a culture that somehow everything will be swept up at a later stage. That may explain the point of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, about the absence of Home Office personnel at key meetings. That is the kind of thing that undermines confidence and perhaps introduces slack practice.
I have been encouraged by the contributions that have been made. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will read them carefully. We will return to this matter at Third Reading, when I hope we will see further evidence that the Government are addressing
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the problem of the initial stage in the processwhich, as I have said, two committees have already indicated may have been the right place for the Government to have started this journey in the first place. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
These matters have been dealt with sensibly in correspondence between his honour Judge Henry Hodge and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer. However, we ought to refer to them in order to obtain more certainty about the issues involved. I do not believe that they should be dealt with entirely through correspondence.
If we were to stop at that particular point, there would be no issue between us at all. It would follow in that respect all similar provisions in statutes which create judicial posts in courts and/or tribunals.
I accept that terms and conditions of appointment have to include terms for removal from office for good cause. In that category, I include incapacity, misconduct, a substantial diminution of work and so on. However, the Bill goes entirely beyond that. It states that the terms and conditions of members of the new tribunal "may include provision for dismissal". I have certain objections to the word being used. "Dismissal" is the language of employment. It is not the language of those holding judicial office. Judicial office holders are not employees. They are independent judicial appointees.
There is no need to go beyond the existing law, which simply states that existing officers, adjudicators and immigration tribunal members hold and vacate office in accordance with their terms of employment. Adjudicators
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and AIT members fear that their terms of employment may deteriorate after commencement as a result of policy. Any change in terms and conditions is seen to be a threat to judicial independence.
On a number of occasions, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has given assurances that the arrangements for disciplining and removing judicial office holders will continue to apply in the new single tier, but there is no need whatever to state that terms and conditions of employment may include provision for dismissal. That adds absolutely nothing to the existing provision, save to arouse fears that the Government intend to promote an adverse change.
It is accepted that there is no longer any intention to include a requirement that members of the new single tier should comply with practice directions which are issued from time to time. I ask again if there is any compelling reason to go down the road of making express reference to dismissal at all. If the Government intend to embody in statute what currently happens, why is there any need to change existing law? I therefore hope that my noble friend will think again about this issue. I do not intend call a Division tonight, but I hope that he will think again between now and Third Reading.
I turn to Amendment No. 57D. It would simply delete the reference to "supervision" of judicial work and respect the authority of the Lord Chancellor in making rules for the new single tier. I know of no statute which contains provision for one judicial office holder to supervise another. If my noble friend can refer to any particular provision, I shall stand corrected.
The judicial hierarchy requires an appellate judge to overrule the decision of a judge who is less senior if it contains errors of law. That ensures that modern judicial decision-making receives modern methods of management. There is every reason for the new single tier to operate on a more collegiate basis than is the case at present. Existing adjudicators work alone and under great pressure of time, but those are not reasons for introducing a power to enable or, worse still, to require one judge to supervise another or, to put it in another way, to compel one judge to be supervised by another.
A collegiate atmosphere, discussions between judges, better training and personnel development of judges can be achieved without this unprecedented measure. Regardless of the Government's intentions, without an amendment, the Bill will be read as being inimical to judicial independence. In other words, we should not legislate to create something which we do not intend to apply. I beg to move.
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