The Home Office is struggling to control the cost of legal fees and compensation for immigration cases, an independent report says.
One of the three inspection reports released today by David Bolt, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, raises concerns about the department’s “ability to control its expenditure in this area”. Almost £100 million was spent on litigation in 2016/17, which was £6 million over the amount budgeted.
The budget for engaging Government Legal Department lawyers to fight immigration cases was blown by 12%, Mr Bolt says, and the budget for compensation 19% overspent.
This is despite there being few cases than forecast. The Litigation Operations team received a mere 23,000 pre-action protocol letters (down from 26,000 the year before) and 14,000 judicial reviews (down from 16,000). This was put down to fewer human rights claimed being launched.
Mr Bolt praised aspects of the Litigation Operation team’s “strategy and tactics, and the quality of its judgement regarding which claims to contest”. Only 3.6% of judicial reviews that went to a substantive hearing in 2016/17 were allowed, for example.
On the other side of the ledger, acknowledgment of service for judicial reviews is late over half the time. “Fewer than 40% of cases received an AoS response within 21 days”, the report notes, and there was no month in which even an extended target of 42 days was consistently reached.
The report, which covers England and Wales only, expresses Mr Bolt’s polite but profound incredulity at proposed budget cuts:
The overall budget is planned to reduce substantially in 2019-20, which will require an exceptional level of cost saving efficiencies. I found no evidence that would support such optimism.
The real solution to ballooning costs, he suggests, is better initial decision-making (and who could possibly disagree?). Mr Bolt makes seven specific recommendations, all of which the Home Office either fully or partially accepts).