A senior immigration tribunal judge has spoken out about the problems dealing with appeals from unrepresented appellants when Home Office caseworkers seek to defend ‘unsustainable’ decisions on appeal.
Speaking at a event organised by the Bar Council to mark pro bono week, Judge Nicholas Easterman, who sits at the Immigration Tribunal at Hatton Cross in London, highlighted the complexity of immigration law that unrepresented appellants are expected to navigate.
‘Immigration law is a total nightmare. I don’t suppose the judges know anymore about it than the appellants who come before them,’ he said.
Operating in an adversarial system, said Easterman, is ‘difficult’ when judges are faced only with Home Office presenting officers and appellants who are not legally represented.
Given the complexity of the law and lack of legal representation for appellants, he said: ‘We cannot manage in many cases without proper assistance and we rarely get it from the Home Office.’
While some presenting officers were ‘good and fair’, Easterman said others were ‘worse than useless’ and seek to support ‘impossible’ and ‘unsustainable’ decisions.
He criticised some Home Office presenting officers, most of whom are not lawyers, for being ‘obsessed’ with minor discrepancies in the evidence of appellants.
The Home Office, he said, suffers from what he called ‘Woolly Hat’ syndrome and is reluctant to see that in real life a person’s situation can change – and that while they might wear a woolly hat in the winter, they may want to wear a Panama hat or no hat at all in the summer. The Home Office mentality, he suggested, would not allow for that change.
Easterman also complained that the Home Office was too ready to appeal tribunal decisions. ‘If they don’t win, they will appeal’, he said and added that the Home Office even appeals in cases where it has made concessions in court.
On the flip side, he said: ‘There are just as many extraordinary arguments run by unrepresented appellants.’
The event, The Citizen and the State: Poor decision-making and the role of the pro bono Bar, considered the extent of poor decision-making by state bodies which forced members of the public to appeal decisions about their entitlement to benefits and other rights, to the courts, often without legal representation due to legal aid cuts.
Highlighting the extent to which civil servants make incorrect decisions, Sir Ernest Ryder, senior president of tribunals cited statistics on the number of successful appeals made against them.
He said that in 2016, 43% of immigration and asylum appeals succeeded, 61% of social security and child support appeals succeed and 89% of appeals before the Special Educational Needs and Disciplinary Tribunal succeed.