Archives For Gossip

Rehman Chishti: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many vouchers her Department has provided to her Department’s presenting officers for winning cases at immigration tribunals; what the (a) value and (b) store was of each such voucher; and whether these officers face penalties for losing cases.

Mr Harper [holding answer 27 November 2013]: No vouchers have ever been issued to presenting officers purely for winning cases at the immigration tribunals.

Since July 2012, 11 vouchers have been issued to presenting officers as a one-off recognition of individual performance at court. However, presenting officers’ performance is assessed equally by reference to other relevant factors that include the quality of preparation and advocacy.

The vouchers in question are valued at £25 each, and can be redeemed in a range of outlets. The total cost of these awards is thus £275.

Presenting officers’ performance is managed in accordance with the same performance management policy that applies to all Home Office staff. Where an officer’s overall performance is judged to be unsatisfactory, the Home Office’s poor performance procedure may be instigated.

Hansard : 16 Dec 2013 : Column 394W


Colin Yeo

bored or board?I’m boardbored. On the float list at Hatton Cross. No-one has been called on yet. Word is that judges here get to pick and choose their cases from the float list a la carte, apparently based at least in part on the representative’s name. I think I might be coming back another day…


New President Appointed

Colin Yeo — 

Mr Justice Bernard McCloskey has been appointed the new President of the Upper Tribunal’s Immigration and Asylum Chamber. His term begins on 1 October 2013 at the conclusion of Mr Justice Nicholas Blake’s three year term of office.

First of all, a few words on the term of Mr Justice Blake.  Continue Reading…

bannedIt was with a mixture of pride and regret that I heard that last week immigration judges were explicitly and specifically instructed not to join the Free Movement forum by the two Presidents of the Immigration and Asylum Chambers. It is nice to know the blog is on the senior judicial radar, less nice to be blacklisted. This places immigration judges in the same position as immigration detainees, the only other group of which I am aware that are banned by their custodians from access to the Free Movement forum.

The Internet and social media present challenges to us all, from transforming standard legal business models to offering new ways to immortalise rash moments of misjudged ‘humour’ or to fuelling misplaced accusations of bias as a consequence of social media connections. As a complete coincidence, at the weekend I came across a new paper on exactly this last issue: Ethical Exits: When Lawyers and Judges Must Sever Ties on Social Media by Kelly Lynn Anders in the Charleston Law Review, Vol. 7, No. 2, Winter 2012-2013. Almost inevitably this is from the United States, where social media and the Internet are taken more seriously and are more embedded. Hat tip to Richard Moorhead for Tweeting it.

That said, singling out particular websites for banning orders probably isn’t the right way forward. It is flattering to think that Free Movement is a special case in some way because of its wide readership amongst immigration lawyers and judges. It is just a blog and forum after all, though, not a cesspit of moral turpitude. Will a blacklist of other banned sites be maintained somewhere? Are immigration judges also to be banned from socialising where only claimant lawyers are present at a gathering? Will they be forbidden from being in the same room as a Home Office Presenting Officer where no one else is present? Will they be banned from professional or other organisations from which Home Office civil servants are excluded? What about judges in other areas of law?

Fundamentally, why issue this specific missive when there is already arguably rather better considered guidance from the Ministry of Justice on exactly this issue? That guidance surely says enough:

Blogging by members of the judiciary is not prohibited. However, judicial office holders who blog (or who post comments on other people’s blogs) must not identify themselves as members of the judiciary. They must also avoid expressing opinions which, were it to become known that they hold judicial office, could damage public confidence in their own impartiality or in the judiciary in general.

It is also worth referring to the Judges’ Council Guide to Judicial Conduct, released following a Freedom of Information request. I am indebted to the Meeja Law blog for their summary of the relevant parts of the guide:

You will see at paragraph 3.1, dealing with impartiality, that “A judge should strive to ensure that his or her conduct, both in and out of court, maintains and enhances the confidence of the public, the legal profession and litigants, in the impartiality of the judge and of the judiciary. You will also note at 3.4 that judicial office holders are warned against the expression of views out of court that would give rise to issues of perceived bias or prejudgment in cases that might later come before them. Also of interest will be paragraph 3.10, section 4 (Integrity) and Section 5 (Propriety).

The tenor of both sets of guidance is to encourage judges not so say anything stupid. This seems reasonable enough. The guidance does not go so far as to prohibit judges from placing themselves in a position where they might say something stupid. There is no hint of a ban from social media connections or Facebook or Linked In or Google+ or any groups on such websites whether public or approved members only or any other similar websites. It seems unlikely that anything so specific will ever follow, either, at least outside the immigration judiciary. The broad guidance that judges should not express opinions that might give rise to a perception of bias seems strong enough and ‘future proof’.

Judge's chambers

Judge’s chambers

The extra guidance specifically for immigration judges about a specific website going far beyond the general guidance is, arguably, hysterical overkill. It risks giving the impression that the senior immigration judiciary simply does not trust its junior judges to exercise judgment and would rather they lived in a legal isolation tent, quarantined from legal influences outside the control regime of The Reporting Committee and its reported determinations, the unsearchable unreported database, (ill-) Starred determinations, Country Guidance determinations, Practice Directions and Practice Statements and judicial supervisors at hearing centres. Surely this decade-long trend to infantilise our immigration judges has already gone too far.

I should point out that Ronan Toal of Garden Court Chambers has written on a related subject for the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law journal (hard copy only as far as I am aware). See The Reporting Committee of the Upper Tribunal, Immigration and Asylum Chamber: Country Guidance Decisions (2012) Vol 26, No 1 IANL 64 and The Reporting Committee of the Upper Tribunal, Immigration and Asylum Chamber and the Citation of Authorities (2012) Vol 26, No 3 IANL 278.

The ban seems a shame. Some interesting tidbits are emerging on the forum already, including a policy on evidential flexibility in entry clearance cases. Oh well. A few refunds have been issued as a consequence. Immigration judges remain welcome readers of the main blog, at least so long as they aren’t banned from looking at it as well.

Blatant puff piece

Free Movement — 

Back to more serious blogging and the detention mini series ASAP, but I simply can’t resist a quick plug for Renaissance Chambers, the team behind this blog. On Thursday last week we were awarded the tasteful little logo to the right by Chambers and Partners, the well known guide to barrister chambers and solicitor partners.

Renaissance was described as being of growing stature in the immigration and asylum field and we were referenced for our human rights expertise “especially when considering difficult cases.”

Blog contributor Shivani Jegarajah gets a specific mention and is ranked at Band 3 and blog editor Colin Yeo also gets a mention and is ranked at Band 4. The blog also gets a mention! Click the above link if you’d like to be subjected to the precise text.

New UKBA recruit

The UK Border Agency just got permission to appeal from the First-tier Tribunal on these grounds, reproduced word for word in their entirety:

The Judge of the First-tier Tribunal has made a material error of law in the determination in the following way.

The judge has erred by failing to take into account a particular public interest factor.

(1) The panel has failed to refer anywhere in the determination to the expression of revulsion that the public are entitled to have taken into account with attendant weight ascribed in the proportionality assessment under Article 8. Even when taking into account as a primary consideration the best interests of the child, this interest will not always as a certainty outweigh the right of the public to rid its’ shores of a violent criminal who has been sentenced to x years and y months imprisonment for a knife crime.

There is no (2). The determination is in reality a very careful and well considered piece of grammatically correct work, although it is true that it lacks the glamorous hyperbole that the grounds of appeal demand. It is, to say the least, a little surprising that permission was granted on grounds that are so heavy on assertion and light on analysis.

I know there has been an influx of new blood at the UK Border Agency but I had not realised Paul Dacre was himself now crafting grounds of appeal.

It will not have escaped the attention of immigration barristers in London that there are some very fresh faces in court acting for the Home Office. ‘Operation Present’ is back, sort of, with the Home Office having recruited a bunch of junior barristers to ensure no case goes uncovered.

Free Movement was sad to see that the application date is passed. Alas, alack, ahem. However, at the time of writing the advert can still be seen on the Bar Council website, as can the job description. Both are preserved here for posterity.

Only very junior barristers were sought. The rates were £125 per day for pupils or £225 for junior barristers of up to two years’ Call. The latter actually beats legal aid rates for non asylum cases and it compares very favourably to junior criminal rates. A minimum of two days work a week was being offered. It isn’t surprising that some have taken the Queen’s shilling.

The job description reveals a ‘success’ rate target of 60%, which would apparently be an improvement on current levels. It is sad to see Home Office ‘success’ (i.e. appeals being dismissed) being the target, rather than truth or justice. Some would say that the Home Office personnel with the power to increase the success rate are not the cannon fodderPresenting Officers on the front line but officials back at HQ making the initial decisions: if they did not get it wrong so often, the Home Office would win more appeals.

The job description also reveals the existence of a document entitled ‘Professional Standards for Presenting Officers’. I was on the verge of making another of those Freedom of Information requests Tony Blair loves so much when I discovered someone had beaten me to it. The document itself along with training course outlines are available here if you want to read them. It won’t take long, the professional standards are, as might be expected by old hands at this, really quite short.

The New Batch are presumably formally briefed by Treasury Solicitors, otherwise their status before the tribunal and as self employed barristers would be doubtful. The job description indicates that this is something of a charade, though, as the person seems to be responsible for his or her own litigation (e.g. complying with directions, filing and serving documents). Litigation is the one thing that barristers still are not permitted by the Bar Standards Board to undertake, so this could be professionally problematic. It is not readily apparent what access the recruits have to UK Border Agency files and databases. One assumes probably full access, as I cannot imagine there are staff at Angel Square and elsewhere tasked with preparing briefs to Counsel.

Word in the Hatton Cross Tesco’s canteen is that after three months of running this pilot, the ‘success’ rate before and after will be compared and lessons learned. One imagines that if the ‘success’ rate is unchanged, the pilot will be discontinued and the cash strapped Border Agency might consider laying off more or all existing Presenting Officers too: there’s no point wasting money on filling chairs at court if it doesn’t affect outcomes. One might also imagine that if the ‘success’ rate ‘improves’, someone in Croydon with a calculator will be adding up the costs of salary, National Insurance, civil service pension contributions, office and support costs, training and so on for full time Presenting Officers and seeing if it works out as more or less than £225 per day per person…

Appointments to Panel

Free Movement — 

This blog congratulates Zane Malik of 12 Old Square, who was this week appointed to the Attorney General’s C Panel of ‘junior juniors’. Zane has made a huge impact on immigration law in the last couple of years and it has become increasingly rare to see a judgment of the Administrative Court or Court of Appeal without his name on it. He has been mentioned on this blog on a couple of occasions.

This is an unusual move for an immigration practitioner but if anyone can pull it off it is surely Zane.

Congratulations also to another notable appointment in the small world of legal blogging, Adam Wagner of 1 Crown Office Row, the force behind the UK Human Rights Blog. He has also been appointed to the C Panel.

No doubt this means contributors to this blog will be against both in future…

I am back from my very pleasant holidays and thought I would kick off what feels like a new season with some juicy gossip.

Many lawyers in the sector will know that ex immigration judges (then plain old adjudicators, in fact) Patricia Skitmore, John Disley and Harry Mitchell QC joined Migration Watch after stepping down as judges. Some might say this showed their true colours. Few immigration lawyers who appeared before them will have been much surprised by this development, though.

A little bird tells me that Mark Ockleton himself has granted permission to appeal in a case where the grounds are essentially that the previous determination by one of the Migration Watch Three must be considered unsafe. An expert report is being commissioned into whether Migration Watch really is anti-immigration.

It should be a very interesting determination, whichever way it goes.