Plans to raise the fees for appealing against Home Office decisions in immigration and asylum cases by up to 500% have been put forward by the UK Government.
The Law Society of England & Wales immediately attacked the proposals, in a consultation launched yesterday, which it said gave rise to a "serious risk" of incorrect decisions going unchallenged.
In the First-tier Tribunal, the £80 fee for an application for a decision based on the papers would go up to £480, while the fee for an application for an oral hearing would jump from £140 to £800. There would be a new fee of £455 for an application for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal, a further £350 to apply for permission to the Upper Tribunal where permission has been refused by the First-tier Tribunal, and a £510 charge for an appeal hearing where permission is granted. The proposals are expected to save around £37m a year.
Ministers claim that only 9% of the annual costs of First-tier Immigration and Asylum Tribunals were recovered in fees in the last financial year. A previous consultation took place on fees that would have raised this figure to 25%, but Justice Minister Dominic Raab said yesterday that having reassessed the Ministry of Justice's financial position following the spending review, "we need to go much further".
"In these financial circumstances, we have concluded that it is no longer reasonable to expect the taxpayer to fund around 75% of the costs of immigration and asylum proceedings."
The Government was "mindful" of the fact that some applicants would face difficulties paying the fees, so those in "particularly vulnerable positions" would continue to be exempt.
He continued: "This includes those who qualify for legal aid or asylum support; those who are appealing against a decision to deprive them of their citizenship; and those children bringing appeals to the tribunal who are being supported by a local authority. We will also extend our exemptions to protect children being housed by the local authority and the parents of children receiving local authority support. In addition, we are consulting on further extensions to the exemptions scheme in this consultation to make sure we continue to protect the most vulnerable."
Jonathan Smithers, President of the Law Society of England & Wales, commented: “It is fundamental to the rule of law that access to the courts and tribunals should not be determined by the ability to pay – the provision of justice should not be an accounting exercise.
“There is a serious risk that fee increases of 500% will prevent many people from challenging often incorrect Home Office administrative decisions about their entitlement to enter or remain in the UK.
“When employment tribunal fees were increased sharply, many who had been wronged were discouraged from pursuing valid claims. Since June 2013 the number of employment tribunal cases has dropped by nearly 70%, and our members have told us that many claimants with strong cases see the fee as a significant deterrent to seeking justice."
Click here to access the consultation. The deadline for responses is 3 June 2016.