Courts 'will be flooded by asylum disputes'

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The Government's controversial measures to change the way asylum-seekers are dealt with will flood the courts with new cases, a report commissioned by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, warned yesterday.

The new asylum support scheme introduced this year, which includes voucher payments instead of cash, is likely to be the subject of "frequent and early challenge" before the courts.

Sir Jeffery Bowman, who was asked by Lord Irvine to propose changes to the Crown Office List, which deals with public and administrative law cases, including asylum and immigration appeals, said that this was also true of the new powers to disperse asylum-seekers throughout the country.

He concluded that the Immigration and Asylum Act would lead to a workload of between "substantial and a flood".

He added that the removal of rights for "overstayers" and new rights for "illegal entrants" would also add to the pressure on the courts.

Sir Jeffery warned the new asylum support arrangements could spark up to 2,000 extra judicial review cases by asylum-seekers challenging whether the support offered was "adequate and appropriate", putting a burden on an already overstretched court system.

He called for a "blitz" to clear up the backlog before the autumn and recommended that judges sit during the long summer vacation.

In addition, the report warned that challenges could be brought under the Human Rights Act to the process of deciding who was eligible for support under the new rules.

The adjudicators making these decisions were administrative appointments made by the Home Secretary, rather than judicial appointments made by the Lord Chancellor, which could call into question their independence.

The Asylum and Immigration Act introduces new powers for ministers to certify that certain cases raise no asylum or human rights issues. Sir Jeffery said that this system had already proved unsuccessful in respect of asylum claims that the Government said were without foundation or should be heard in another country.

"We were told that it can complicate procedures at appellate level and it also provides an opportunity for judicial review," the report concluded.

Sir Jeffery said it was not the role of his review to "suggest how any perceived deficiencies or gaps [in the legislation] should be dealt with, and indeed it is too late to do so".

But he said measures should be considered to beef up the system for appeals lower down to reduce the need for judicial reviews. He recommended greater emphasis on the settling of cases between asylum-seekers and government lawyers before they get to the High Court.

Yesterday, Lord Irvine said: "Those changes will greatly enhance Crown Office performance for all cases, including the very large number arising from immigration and asylum claims. Improving performance in this area is among the Government's highest priorities and I am grateful for Sir Jeffery's help."