Blackstone backs up Refugee Legal Centre unfairness claim

Barristers from Blackstone Chambers acting pro bono have carried out two challenges in the Court of Appeal on key elements of the Government’s policy towards asylum seekers.

In both cases they acted with the Refugee Legal Centre, which was appealing decisions handed down by Mr Justice Collins in the High Court earlier in 2004.

In G and M, heard in the Court of Appeal on 9 and 10 November, Blackstone barrister Michael Fordham challenged the Government’s refusal to allow asylum seekers the right to judicially review (JR) Home Office rejections of their applications to stay in this country.

He argued that the Government’s alternative to JRs, its so-called statutory review scheme, bars asylum seekers access to the Court of Appeal, a fundamental right in English law. Also, claimants in statutory review cases can only present their cases on paper rather than with counsel in court. Both of these rights are available through a JR. The Court of Appeal is due to hand down its judgment before Christmas.

In the second Court of Appeal case, Fordham and fellow Blackstone barrister David Pievsky claimed that the Government’s three-day timetable for processing claims at the Harmondsworth Detention Centre in west London was too fast to be fair.

On 12 November, the Court of Appeal ruled that the system was not inherently unfair but needed a degree of flexibility so that more time could be spent making decisions.

The Court of Appeal judges said: “So long as it operates flexibly – as the Home Office accepts it should – the system can operate without an unacceptable risk of unfairness.”

The case was brought by the Refugee Legal Centre on a principle of law rather than by disgruntled asylum seekers. The centre instructed the director of the Public Law Project Conrad Haley, who also acted pro bono and who used the Blackstone barristers.

Haley said: “We argued that the system was too fast to be fair. The timeframe involves an asylum seeker arriving at the detention centre on day one; on day two he gets advice from his lawyers, prepares for the interview with the Home Office and, on the same day, he has the interview with the Home Office; the next day he gets his decision.”

The fast-track at Harmondsworth was set up in April 2003 and, until June this year, 1,195 cases had entered the scheme.