Fast-track asylum system ‘unlawful’, High Court rules

Colnbrook is one of the immigration removal centres where asylum seekers are detained
The future of a key part of the government’s system to remove failed asylum seekers is in doubt after the High Court ruled it was unlawful.Mr Justice Nicol said the Home Office’s system to “fast track” certain cases contained “structural unfairness”.

The process accelerates legal hearings and appeals, while keeping the individual detained at all times.

The government said it was disappointed by the judgment and would be appealing.
‘Serious disadvantage’

The judge said that despite a number of safeguards, applicants were not able to properly prepare their cases and their lawyers were also put in an unfair position.

Ruling on a case brought by campaign group Detention Action, the judge said: “In my judgment the Fast Track Rules (FTR) do incorporate structural unfairness. They put the appellant at a serious procedural disadvantage.

“The appellant is always detained and, as is obvious, the fact of detention places additional obstacles in the way of achieving all that has to be done before a tribunal hearing.

Fast-track removals were introduced more than a decade ago because the then government believed too many people were abusing the system.

But critics have long said the speed of the procedure is manifestly unfair, not least to individuals who may have complex but genuine claims for protection.

Mr Justice Nicol has put a stay on his judgement, and that means that the fast-track system remains in operation and asylum seekers within it can still be removed.

But if the government loses the eventual appeal, it could deal a major blow to an important part of the removal system.

There have been previous judgements against parts of the system – but this one is more important because the court said it was wrong that ministers could impose time limits, rather than giving discretion to tribunals. That’s something which the judge said looked like sacrificing fairness “on the altar of speed and convenience”.

“What seems to me to make the FTR structurally unfair is the serious procedural disadvantage which comes from the abbreviated timetable and curtailed case management powers.”

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