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Lord Ackner: My Lords, I, too, support the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. The Government's approach is a recipe for half-baked cases. It means that people will be rushed in producing what should be a very important document, or they will be obliged to apply to the court to exercise its discretionsomething which will add considerable delay. We are arguing about five days, which does not justify our spending more than a few seconds on this meritless opposition.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, there is the further point, in support of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that we all know that unfortunately many asylum seekers fall into the hands of unscrupulous lawyers who take on too many cases and have very little hope of delivering what they should deliver.
Why go slower than necessary? That is, essentially, the Government's question. I have set out why we believe that five days is an adequate period of time. Therefore, yet again it appears that the House is always looking for reasons to make the process slower and more complex than is desirable.
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Lord Kingsland: My Lords, your Lordships' House might find the Minister's argument more convincing if he had taken seriously the amendments that we tabled at an earlier stage, introducing time limits to the beginning and the end of the asylum procedurein other words, between the asylum application and the initial consideration by the Home Office; then, after the appeal process was over, between that point and the time of deportation. If the Government were prepared to entertain time limits at those stages, which cause far greater delay than the delays within the appeal procedure, your Lordships' House might find the Minister's argument more convincing.
The essence of what we have said throughout this debate is that the Government must prevent unnecessary delay at every single part of the process. It is not a question of saying that we should bear down only on the initial consideration, although the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, is right in saying that we should. We have made great progress on that in recent years and the process is vastly shorter and of higher quality than it was. But that is no reason whatever for saying, "What does another week matter? Let's have another week added on to the process for the avoidance of doubt". I remind the House that keeping a family on state support while a lengthy appeal process goes through costs several hundred pounds a week. The state should willingly support that expenditure if it is necessary but we should not get drawn into it if it is not.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, was clear in his argument that lawyers are busy peoplemany people are busy peopleand that they are not just waiting for cases to come over the hill to be addressed. That is true, but, as I sought to indicate, on the best estimate we have been able to identify, we are talking about approximately one day's work by a lawyer. In the process that we are talking about, five days are provided for doing that one day's work and if there are reasonable grounds why that is not possible they can go to court and be granted more.
It also matters because the system is prone to abuse. I make no apology for coming back to that. We know that 50 per cent of all people who are refused by the adjudicator then appeal. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, who is in his place, will know that one gets nothing like those statistics in any other part of the tribunal system. The reason why is obvious: it runs the case long and reduces the time period when the individual might be removed from the country if he is found not to have a meritorious case.
I draw the attention of the House to the judgment by Mr Justice Collins, whose judgments have not always been met with rejoicing by the Government. He gave a clear example just last week of a case that had been run right through the process by the Refugee Legal Centre.
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It cost £60,000 and in his judgment Mr Justice Collins said that he found in it absolutely no merit whatever. We should not be party to supporting a system that runs cases long when there is no justification for doing so.
It is not proper for me to go into detail but, of course, the department has consulted the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice on this process. I am certain that he has a view that he does not want the High Court swamped with unmeritorious cases. We would be a foolish Government, particularly in the light of our recent experiences, if we had not consulted properly.
I shall say no more. We think that five days are perfectly adequate for this process. I do not think that we are going to have a meeting of minds on this matter so no doubt the House will decide the issue.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he give us a reference to the judgment by Mr Justice Collins? The only recent case that I can recall in which a figure of £60,000 was involved was that of Jacqueline Konan who sued the Government for being unlawfully detained and was awarded damages of £60,000 by Mr Justice Collins.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I looked for the details in my voluminous pack before I rose to speak but I could not put my finger on them. I shall write to the noble Lord with the answer very rapidly indeed.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am grateful for the support that our amendment has received from other parts of the House. It has a great deal of logic and good common sense behind it. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
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