Barristers working in the immigration tribunal say that emergency measures to keep hearings going are “unworkable”.
Members of the immigration bar have written to First-tier Tribunal President Michael Clements to express deep concern about the arrangements for hearing immigration cases during the coronavirus pandemic.
They point out that barristers submitting a skeleton argument in advance, as the tribunal now requires, risk not getting any legal aid payment for that work if the Home Office concedes or withdraws the decision without a hearing. “Given how precarious practice already is at the junior end of the bar”, the letter says, “this is simply not economically viable”.
It adds that
Some chambers have already felt compelled not to take instructions under such circumstances and it is likely that most barristers will be unable or unwilling to accept publicly funded cases if required to comply with this direction.
The barristers also warn that remote hearings involved witnesses are impractical, saying that “very few that require live evidence to be taken can fairly be done this way”. With witnesses unable to travel to a controlled environment like a lawyer’s office to give their remote evidence, they risk being unable to participate or having to do so from shared accommodation.
The specialists note that there have been different notices on remote working issued by different tribunal hearing centres, and ask the President for “a definitive Practice Direction from you which applies to all hearing centres”.
The letter is signed by 21 different chambers with significant immigration practices.