The Ministry of Justice has launched a consultation on its proposal to increase the fees currently charged in the First-Tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber by more than 500%. The Ministry of Justice has said that it is “no longer reasonable to expect the taxpayer to fund around 75% of the costs of proceedings“.
Defending the proposals, Justice minister Dominic Raab said:
“This Government is committed to delivering a balanced budget by 2018/19 and the Ministry of Justice must continue to manage its finances sensibly in order to meet its spending review settlement. Courts and tribunals in England and Wales cost £1.8 billion in 2014/15, but we only received £700 million in income. We have concluded that given the need to continue to pursue more ambitious cost recovery it is no longer reasonable to expect the taxpayer to fund around 75% of the costs of proceedings in this Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal.”
The Ministry of Justice has proposed that basic fees for appeals in the First-Tier Tribunal chamber should rise from £80 to £490 for a decision on the papers. Similarly fees for a full Tribunal hearing are proposed to rise from £140 to £800.
Fees for applications for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal are also set to be introduced, with a current figure proposed of £455. In addition, where such applications are refused any further application for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal itself is likely to attract a separate fee of £350. But the proposals do not stop there. Where permission is granted, either by the First-tier or the Upper Tribunal the Ministry of Justice are proposing a further fee for the appeal hearing of £510.
Under the proposals, fee exemptions would continue to apply to individuals who qualify for legal aid or asylum support, those appealing against a decision to deprive them of their citizenship and those children bringing appeals to the tribunal who are being supported by a local authority. Children being housed by the local authority and the parents of children receiving local authority support will also be exempted.
The Ministry of Justice has also made clear that they do not intend to charge a fee for immigration bail applications or for EEA nationals or their family members appealing against a decision made under European law to remove them from the UK. Further, the Ministry of Justice has signalled a commitment to also exempt those appealing decisions to revoke their refugee or humanitarian protected status from the proposed fees regime and any other appellants who have already demonstrated to the Home Office’s satisfaction that they were not able to afford to pay their visa application fees in accordance with the Home Office’ “destitution waivers policy”.
If the Ministry of Justice proceeds with its proposal to introduce fees into the Upper Tribunal it has also indicated that it will consider making special provision to allow for the recovery of those fees, where an appeal is allowed. Other consequential procedural changes also under consideration include provision for the striking out of an appeal for non-payment of the relevant fee in the Upper Tribunal.
Responding to the proposal, Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said:
“‘It is fundamental to the rule of law that access to the courts and tribunals should not be determined by the ability to pay – the provision of justice should not be an accounting exercise.
There is a serious risk that fee increases of 500 per cent will prevent many people from challenging often incorrect Home Office administrative decisions about their entitlement to enter or remain in the UK. When employment tribunal fees were increased sharply, many who had been wronged were discouraged from pursuing valid claims. Since June 2013, the number of employment tribunal cases has dropped by nearly 70 per cent and our members have told us that many claimants with strong cases see the fee as a significant deterrent to seeking justice. The announcement follows recent significant increases in visa-application fees which have generated additional revenue for the government.”
The consultation is due to end on 3 June 2016.