Immigration appeal hearings are being delayed as a backlog mounts in the tribunal system, the Gazette of the Law Society of England & Wales has reported.

Cases outstanding before the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration & Asylum Chamber) reached 62,900 by the end of September, 20% more than a year previously, but the number disposed of in the quarter ending that month was down 13% to 18,000. The average time until disposal has risen from 33 to 48 weeks in a single year, according to Ministry of Justice figures.

Appeal hearings are reported as being put back by up to nine months, and a list of "priority" cases has been drawn up to ensure that the most urgent issues are dealt with. 

The situation has been described as "shocking" by Meg Hillier MP, chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. Her Labour colleague Keith Vaz MP has claimed that there are fewer immigration judges.

Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald accepted before the House of Commons Justice Committee that "we need to improve that area", but said the Government was "working very hard on it" and he hoped that speeds would improve.

In a parliamentary written answer this month, he stated that an additional 4,950 tribunal sitting days had been provided for the current financial year to ensure case loads did not increase.