Return of the Fast Track?

Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, announced proposals to introduce a fast track system to process the deportation of detained asylum-seekers and ex-offenders who have completed prison sentences in the UK. The new proposals will be considered by the Tribunal Procedure Committee (TPC), a non-departmental body, responsible for making rules that govern the practice and procedure in the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal. Last year, the TPC refused to set rules for a new fast track system.

Under the new government proposals, the overall time frame for appeals has been capped at between 25 and 28 working days, and 20 days for further appeal. The new rules seek to replace the previous Detained Fast Track scheme which allowed the Home Office to detain asylum-seekers simply for claiming asylum, and keep them in detention throughout an accelerated asylum process. At its height, this system meant one in four asylum-seekers were detained for the duration of their asylum claims and registered 99% rejection rates in the assessment of these same claims.

The previous fast-track system was suspended in 2015 following a legal challenge brought by Detention Action. The Court of Appeal accepted that the judicial rules setting the tight timescales for asylum-seekers to make appeals were unlawful and ‘ultra vires’ and found the strict time limits in and of themselves were ‘structurally unfair’. Asylum-seekers who had their appeals refused as a result of this unfair process were given the right to ask for a rehearing.  In January 2017, the High Court found that asylum-seekers had been denied justice in detention for 10 years. The ruling was further admission that the Detained Fast Track allowed thousands of people to be deported without ever having a lawful hearing of their case. While last week, the Immigration Tribunal heard the first cases from claimants seeking to have the refusal of their asylum appeals quashed.

Jerome Phelps, Director of Detention Action said:

‘It’s disappointing that despite multiple court rulings confirming the unlawfulness of the original Detained Fast Track, the Government is pushing ahead with another accelerated procedure. Far from having regard for an individual’s circumstances, an arbitrary time frame for appeal has been shown to be a serious disadvantage for asylum-seekers and without strong safeguards it often means vulnerable people are not afforded the protection they need.’