The government were forced into an “an unqualified climb down” on their controversial proposals to remove the right of failed asylum seekers to appeal to the high court yesterday, following the threat of a rebellion in the upper house led by the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine.
His successor, Lord Falconer promised that he would amend the Asylum and Immigration Bill following widespread criticism of the plans. In particular, he admitted that Lord Irvine had “forcefully made representations about the bill”.
Lord Falconer said that he believed that it would be possible to have “the necessary judicial oversight in the system by the higher courts and obtain the aims of speed and reduction of abuse”. “I am prepared in those circumstances to bring forward amendments to replace the judicial review ouster with a new system allowing oversight by the administrative court in those decisions.” The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, who had predicted the proposal could “bring the judiciary, the executive and legislature into conflict”, welcomed the “unqualified” climb down.
Michael Fordham, of Blackstone Chambers, was commissioned by the Refugee Legal Centre to provide a legal opinion on the Bill. “Such a legislative choice would place Parliament and the Courts on a collision course,” he concluded. “It would be an historic legislative step raising a constitutional law issue of huge significance, and which could lead to a historic judicial response.”
The details of the changes are not expected to be revealed until the bill is in its committee or report stage. Speaking yesterday, Lord Falconer promised that ministers would crack down on lawyers who abuse the system. “Reform of the appeals process goes hand in hand with reform of the legal aid system, including thresholds on legal aid and by a clampdown on unregulated immigration advisers, to put a stop to those whose only advice is how to exploit the system,” he said. “We want to ensure that those who need advice, because their claims have merit, get it.”