Following on from recent changes to the immigration system, the UK government has now abolished appeal rights for those who have been refused entry to the UK to visit family members.
The changes are one aspect of the controversial and wide-ranging Crime & Courts Act 2013, whose provisions include abolishing the Serious Organised Crime Agency, establishing a National Crime Agency, tightening media regulation, and introducing new drug-driving offences.
The changes to appeal rights for family members limit the jurisdiction of the First Tier Tribunal (Immigration & Asylum Chamber). The Act is therefore Janus-faced. On the one hand, it significantly tightens regulation of the press and media following the Leveson Inquiry, whilst on the other hand, it loosens regulation of the UK immigration system by removing judicial supervision from the decisions of civil servants working at British embassies around the globe.
These changes are significant and the effect on many ordinary families could be drastic. Family members could miss out on weddings, funerals, births, graduations and family get-togethers as embassy staff from Dusseldorf to Dhaka and New York to New Delhi are now able to make decisions in the knowledge that they will not be subject to review by an independent and impartial tribunal.
It is curious that judicial supervision has been removed, especially when all of the evidence points towards systematic failures by many of the UK's Embassies to consider applications properly. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, has repeatedly pointed out the inadequacies inherent in the system. In his latest report the inspector expressed his disappointment and concern with the way embassies deal with applications. He noted that they did not consider human rights arguments put to them and that there were inconsistencies in how cases were dealt with. In an earlier report that focussed exclusively on how embassies deal with applications he found that in a third of cases, there were errors in how applications were assessed. He found very poor quality decision making in cases where a manager had reviewed decisions and found that the internal administrative review by an Entry Clearance Manager (which now replaces an independent hearing at the Tribunal) was "not working effectively".
In light of a background of extensive administrative failings, and criticism by the inspector, one must ask whether it is really appropriate to remove judicial supervision which prevents ordinary families putting their case before a Judge. There is still of course the option of challenging decisions by way of Judicial Review in the higher courts, though this is a very length and extremely costly process that many will not be able to afford. Given legal aid restrictions in England and Wales as well as the Prime Minister's stated intentions to limit the availability of Judicial Review, it is unlikely to provide much of a safeguard for ordinary family members.
Many aspects of civil society have been very vocal in opposing the clauses of the Act that introduced tighter regulation of the press and media, though it appears that nobody other than immigration lawyers noticed, or cared about, the abolition of appeal rights for thousands of relatives, who will now only be able to visit their family if the coin tossed lands the right side up.