The Home Office is facing a legal challenge over the consultation process for its new immigration plans, with lawyers claiming it did not provide adequate time and opportunity for meaningful responses.
Priti Patel unveiled the department’s New Plan for Immigration on 24 March, describing it as an “overhaul” of the asylum system. A six-week consultation into the plans was launched on the same day.
The new measures would see refugees who arrive in Britain via unauthorised routes denied an automatic right to asylum and instead regularly reassessed for removal to safe countries they passed through.
People who cannot immediately be removed would be offered a temporary status, up to 30 months, with abridged rights and benefits and limited family reunion rights.
The claimants bringing the legal challenge, five asylum seekers who stand to be affected by the plans, contend that the way the consultation was carried out indirectly discriminated against them because the Home Office did not take “meaningful steps” to facilitate their participation.
They say they wished to respond to the consultation but were unable to do so because they do not speak or read English or Welsh, and the consultation documents were only available in these languages.
Their lawyers also argue that the department failed to give people a reasonable time-frame to respond and that the information provided was “misleading and insufficient to allow proper scrutiny or meaningful or intelligent responses”.
The consultation took place from 24 March to 6 May 2021 - almost entirely during the pre-election periods in both Scotland and Wales.
The lawyers also argue that the “vagueness” with which key proposals were described in the consultation had left “even expert organisations unable to provide informed and meaningful responses”.
A Home Office spokesperson said it did not accept the claim and would be “robustly” defending it.
Simon Robinson, trainee solicitor at Duncan Lewis Solicitors who is assisting the claimants, said the consultation process “hindered intelligent or meaningful responses from being made”, adding: “It is hard to see how the Home Office’s approach will assist good policymaking.”
If the case is successful, the Home Office may be ordered to reopen the consultation.
Tim Naor Hilton, chief executive of Refugee Action, described the consultation as “a sham from the very start” and accused ministers of “side-lining refugees whose lives will be torn apart by the policies”.
“If this government is interested in having an asylum system that works, they must re-open the consultation and work in good faith with refugees and asylum organisations to create a system that is fair, effective and compassionate,” he added.
Gary Christie of the Scottish Refugee Council said that given the “short, outsourced” consultation was “completely insufficient”.
“Many of these proposals directly intrude on the devolved competences of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish government, such as the Scottish legal system, anti-trafficking legislation and age assessment process,” he said.
“The consultation period for these proposals ran at exactly the same time as the Scottish elections, meaning many Scottish authorities have been unable to respond.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We consulted widely and thousands of stakeholders, sectors and members of the public shared their views.
“We make no apologies for wanting to move quickly – vulnerable people are falling prey to organised crime gangs and are dying making dangerous journeys across the English Channel.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies