Liz Truss makes fresh attempt to fast-track deportations

Alan Travis Home affairs editor
A demonstration at Yarl’s Wood in 2015, against the previous fast-track system. Photograph: NurPhoto/via Getty Images

A new fast-track system to deport detained asylum seekers and criminals who are foreign nationals has been proposed by the justice secretary, Liz Truss.

Her proposed rules will mean the time taken to hear the appeals of about 2,000 people against being removed from Britain each year will be capped at between 25 and 28 working days.

The new system is to replace a previous scheme known as the “detained fast track”, which was ruled unlawful by the court of appeal because its strict time limits were regarded as “structurally unfair” by the judges.

Hundreds of asylum seekers were released from detention when the previous system was suspended in July 2015 by the then home secretary, Theresa May, in the wake of the court ruling.

At its peak the old detained fast-track scheme, which first came into force in 2000, saw more than 4,200 asylum seekers a year detained in three removal centres including Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire.

The new fast-track scheme being proposed by Truss will apply to failed asylum seekers and all foreign national offenders who are already in detention in any immigration removal centre or prison and want to appeal against the decision to remove them. It is expected to apply to about 1,600 failed asylum seekers and 400 foreign criminals a year.

Under the old system any failed asylum seeker could find themselves detained under the fast-track procedure if it was thought a quick decision could be reached in their case. The new system will only apply to those who are already in detention and who appeal against their removal.

Ministers say they have responded to the objections of the appeal court judges by proposing longer and more flexible time limits but these will still shave about a third off the usual 36 working days to determine an appeal.

Outlining the plan, Truss said: “It is vital that foreign nationals who have no right to remain in the country should be removed as quickly as possible.

“We must ensure that foreign criminals and failed asylum seekers are not exploiting the justice system by attempting to stay in the UK after their claims have been rejected. Our proposals are also better for detainees as it will see their detention time cut.”

The new system will see the time between an initial decision and the conclusion of an appeal to the first-tier tribunal capped at 25 to 28 working days compared with 12 working days under the previous system. The time allowed for any subsequent appeal on a point of law to the upper tribunal will be 20 working days compared with 18 working days in the suspended system.

Truss’s proposals need the approval of the independent tribunal procedure committee, which sets the rules for tribunals, before they can be implemented. The proposed rules include new safeguards such strengthened powers for judges to decide whether cases can be expedited and a case management review.

In the 2015 appeal court ruling, the master of the rolls, Lord Dyson, said the severely truncated timescales in the previous fast-track system were “systematically unfair and unjust”.

Lawyers representing asylum seekers were expected to take instructions, prepare statements, translate documents, make applications, arrange expert witnesses and make representations – all within seven working days.

In defending their decision to revive the use of the a detained fast-track system justice ministers point that the appeal court ruling in 2015 did not find the principle itself unlawful – only the way it was being operated.

Refugee groups have long campaigned against the use of the detained fast-track system, raising concerns about the failure to screen out victims of torture and sexual violence from the system. They also criticised the very low success rates of fast-track appeals against deportation with only 11% allowed in 2013 compared to 25% in appeals for asylum claims as a whole.

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