‘Legal challenge’ over insufficient consultation to be brought against Home Office

Lawyers are claiming that the Home Office did not provide adequate time or opportunity for a meaningful response for its new immigration plans, and a legal challenge is now being brought against the Home Office.

When Priti Patel, describing it as an ‘overhaul’, unveiled the department’s New Plan for Immigration on 24th March, a six week consultation into the plans was also launched.

The new measures would see refugees who arrive in Britain via unauthorised routes denied an automatic right to asylum and instead be regularly reassessed for removal to safe countries they had passed through.  People who could not be immediately removed would be offered a temporary status, up to 30 months, with limited rights and benefits and limited family reunion rights.

Five asylum seekers who are bringing the legal challenge, and stand to be affected by the plans, contend the way the consultation was carried out indirectly discriminated against them because the Home Office did not take ‘meaningful steps’ to facilitate their participation.  They say they wished to respond to the consultation but were unable to do so because they do not speak or read English or Welsh, and the consultation documents were only available in these languages.

Their lawyers also argue that the department failed to give people a reasonable time-frame to respond and that the information provided was ‘misleading and insufficient to allow proper scrutiny or meaningful or intelligent responses’.

The consultation which took place from 24th March to 6th May 2021 was almost entirely during the pre-election periods in both Scotland and Wales.  The lawyers also argue that the ‘vagueness’ with which key proposals were described in the consultation had left ‘even expert organisations unable to provide informed and meaningful responses’.

A Home Office spokesperson said it did not accept the claim and would be ‘robustly’ defending it.

Trainee solicitor at Duncan Lewis Solicitors who is assisting the claimants, Simon Robinson said the consultation process ‘hindered intelligent or meaningful responses from being made’ and added “It is hard to see how the Home Office’s approach will assist good policymaking”.

If the case is successful, the Home Office may be ordered to reopen the consultation.

Chief executive of Refugee Action, Tim Naor Hilton described the consultation as a ‘sham from the very start’ and accused ministers of ‘side-lining refugees whose lives will be torn apart by the policies’.

“If this government is really interested in having an asylum system that works, they must re-open the consultation and work in good faith with refugees and asylum organisations to create a system that is fair, effective and compassionate”.

Gary Christie of the Scottish Refugee Council said that given the ‘short, outsourced’ consultation it was ‘completely insufficient’,

“Many of these proposals directly intrude on the devolved competences of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish government, such as the Scottish legal system, anti-trafficking legislation and age assessment process”.

“The consultation period for these proposals ran at exactly the same time as the Scottish elections, which mean that many Scottish authorities have been unable to respond”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We consulted widely and thousands of stakeholders, sectors and members of the public shared their views”.

“We make no apologies for wanting to move quickly, vulnerable people are falling prey to organised crime gangs and are dying making dangerous journeys across the English Channel”.