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Immigration tribunal to be merged into unified online justice model?

In a joint statement made yesterday, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals announced that all courts and tribunals will be moving towards an online model and will also merge into a single justice system. The proposals for the civil courts have been described as a “lawyerless” model in which lawyers are not required.

This news comes the same day as the announcement that dramatic increases in immigration tribunal fees are to go ahead “as soon as possible.”

There is no specific mention of the immigration tribunal int he joint statement but on tribunals generally the statement says:

…The necessary ingredients are already in place to help our judges and members to adopt a more inquisitorial and problem-solving approach, focused around the needs of individuals so that claimants can be more confident that their needs will be understood. This will be underpinned by a plan to create one system, one judiciary and better quality outcomes.

Innovative ‘problem-solving’ opportunities will be created to improve the determination of a range of issues which have historically been spread across courts and tribunals. This ‘one stop shop’ approach is being piloted with property disputes which can be dealt with before one specialist Judge, giving claimants a speedier and conclusive resolution to their complaint. The potential to extend this into other areas such as Mental Health and Employment will be explored.

Tribunals will be digital by default, with easy to use and intuitive online processes put in place to help people lodge a claim more easily, but with the right levels of help in place for anyone who needs it, making sure that nobody is denied justice. Once a claim is made, automatic sharing of digital documents with relevant government departments will mean that the tribunals and the parties will have all the right information to allow them to deal with claims promptly and effectively, saving time for both tribunal panels and claimants. Those who use tribunals will have access to specialist judicial expertise using tools and technology that they use routinely in other parts of their lives. This will allow the nub of a case to be identified quickly, wrong decisions resolved, and hopeless causes weeded out – improving justice for everyone involved.

In the next 18 months, online dispute resolution will be tested in Social Security & Child Support hearings, with people making their appeal and receiving a response online, and tribunal judges providing dispute resolution through “continuous online hearings”. This ongoing process will enable judges to gather evidence and make informed decisions at a pace that is right for the case and the parties.

By 2020, tribunals will be part of a single justice system with a single judiciary. They will offer a range of choices to resolve appeals and claims with the needs of people who use the tribunals being put at the centre; from virtual hearings, online decision making, early evaluation, mediation and conciliation to the traditional face-to-face hearing. Cases will be resolved at the right level for the issues at hand, giving all parties better quality, faster and less stressful resolution of claims.

The immigration tribunal has quite a long way to go. I personally find it hard to see how dispute resolution or online processes would work in immigration, other than simplifying and improving the appalling litigation process. Live witness evidence is often critical in immigration hearings. All non asylum immigration appeals will soon be out of country, so it could be said they might as well be online as well. We shall see.

Colin Yeo
Colin Yeo A barrister specialising in UK immigration law at Garden Court Chambers in London, I have been practising in immigration law for 15 years. I am passionate about immigration law and founded and edit the Free Movement immigration law blog.

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