This week the government officially withdrew a planned 500% increase in fees for asylum and immigration tribunals.
The aborted proposal would have severely limited many people’s ability to challenge Home Office decisions about asylum and threatened their human rights. The government has reset the fees to their previous level and announced that it will refund anyone who has paid the increased rate since the changes were brought into force.
What were the plans?
The government first announced its plans to increase the fees for appealing Home Office decisions by 500% earlier this year. The Ministry of Justice then issued a consultation paper to gather the views of individuals and organisations in the legal sector. Despite an overwhelmingly negative response – 142 out of 147 consulted disagreed with the plans – the government announced in September that it would press ahead with the hike in fees anyway.
This decision was met with heavy criticism. The president of the Law Society, Robert Bourns, described it as “a huge setback for justice in the UK.” Parliament’s Justice Committee produced a report stressing that the government’s cost-recovery aim was “unrealistic,” and that it risked denying vulnerable people, such as those who have applied for asylum and been refused, access to justice.
Fears for human rights
There were fears that the changes in asylum appeal fees would negatively impact the interests of a wide range of people and their families – from asylum seekers to EU citizens seeking the right to remain in the UK after Brexit.
As discussed previously (in this post), the hike in fees risked breaching people’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), which takes effect in UK law through the Human Rights Act. Particularly at risk are the right to a fair trial (Article 6 of the ECHR), the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8) and freedom from discrimination (Article 14).
Reaction to the U-turn on increased asylum appeal fees
Bob Neill MP, Chair of Parliament’s Justice Committee, said that the Justice Committee “warmly welcome” this government’s change of direction on asylum appeal fees. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants also tweeted its approval of the news that the government had changed its position:
— JCWImmigrants (@JCWInews) November 25, 2016
Many had expressed concern about the plans and were pleased to see the government change its approach:
Amazing news! Govt reverses immigration tribunal appeal fee rise!
Great effort by everyone who helped raise concerns about the increase. pic.twitter.com/og7urtlV4t
— Shoaib M Khan (@ShoaibMKhan) November 25, 2016
Why the government’s change of heart?
The government has not explained its sudden change of direction on this issue, except to say that it has “listened” to the representations they had received and decided to “take stock”. It has said that it will review the fee increase, but does still intend to bring changes to the original fees.
For more information:
- Read our post about the impact of the fee increase here.
- Find out more about the right to a fair trial and why it matters here.
- Have a look at our Explainer on the importance of the Human Rights Act here.