Are asylum appeal hearings the same wherever they are heard?
Both parties and practitioners are entitled to expect that the practice and procedure of the court in which their case is heard will be consistent and fair irrespective of which court it is and where it is. Yet a Freedom of Information Act 2000 request made by academics at the University of Exeter has revealed a dramatic disparity between regional hearing centres in the proportion of First-tier Tribunal asylum appeals that are allowed. Strikingly, between 1 June 2010 and 31 March 2012, 42% of appeals were allowed at Taylor House in central London versus only 18% at Columbus House in Newport.
While the low success rate for appellants at Columbus House might not be wholly surprising, and some degree of disparity between hearing centres is to be expected, there can be no objectively reasonable justification for a disparity of this magnitude. The statistics suggest a system that is inconsistent and, consequently, unfair.
Since making the Freedom of Information Act 2000 request, the academics have commenced a research project examining:
[T]he process of appealing against initially negative asylum decisions in order to identify what factors differ between courts. In the first part of the research, which is survey, interview and observation based, we will examine what should be consistent between courts in order to ensure that every court delivers the same standards of fairness. In the second part of the research, we will be observing courts to see whether any of these important factors do actually differ between courts. And in the third part of the research, we will be examining the way differences in courts have been experienced by different groups including applicants and legal professionals.
Some early reflections on the project’s initial findings can be found here. A final report is anticipated in 2016.
The team are seeking practitioners who are willing to be interviewed about their experiences of consistency and fairness in asylum appeals, in particular those with experience of representing appellants in more than one regional hearing centre. Volunteers should contact Andrew Burridge (firstname.lastname@example.org).