Judge accuses Blunkett of 'weasel words' on asylum

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The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has been accused by a senior law lord of using "weasel words" in seeking to justify an unjust policy towards asylum-seekers.

The House of Lords allowed an appeal by a young Lithuanian woman whose entitlement to income support was withdrawn without explanation in December 1999. It was not until more than four months later that Nadezda Anufrijeva, now 25, was officially notified by the Home Office that her application for asylum had been refused and, therefore, her right to income support had ceased.

The practice of delayed notification has since been abandoned - applicants are now notified promptly - but counsel for the Home Secretary had still tried to justify it as lawful, said Lord Steyn. "In oral argument before the House, counsel stated that the Secretary of State did not condone delay in notification of a decision on asylum," he said. "These were weasel words. There was no unintended lapse. The practice of not notifying asylum-seekers of the fact of withdrawal of income support was consistently and deliberately adopted. There simply is no rational explanation for such a policy."

Lord Steyn said the policy "provides a peep into contemporary standards of public administration. Transparency is not its hallmark. It is not an encouraging picture."

Notice of a decision was required before it could have legal effect because the individual must be in a position to challenge the decision in the courts if he or she wished to do so. "This is not a technical rule. It is simply an application of the right of access to justice," said Lord Steyn. "That is a fundamental and constitutional principle of our legal system."