The home secretary, Priti Patel, says she “welcomes people through safe and legal routes” – but she will “stop [people] making endless legal claims to remain” (Priti Patel says Tories will bring in new laws for ‘broken’ UK asylum system, 4 October).
Needless to say, this is a government that picks and chooses which bits of international law to follow. But this latest tirade is simply irresponsible and incites further disregard for the legal entitlements of vulnerable people, to whom this country has clear international obligations of essential humanitarian protection.
Legal aid has been repeatedly cut – and the Legal Aid Agency is failing to fund legal aid lawyers’ work this year while many decisions remain in lengthy queues of unheard appeals. People claiming asylum often do not have access to free local legal advice in the first place.
The Home Office is so hostile that, when its decisions have been able to be challenged, even the tribunals this year have allowed 45% of the (lawfully entitled) appeals against them. Is Patel seriously saying that the latter – independent courts – are not “safe and legal”?
This underfunded system, beset with tabloid prejudice and inequalities of access, is indeed “broken” – but who does Patel think broke it?
• Outsourcing asylum interviewing to unaccountable corporations and then cutting down on the appeal system is not the way to fix the broken asylum system. Enormous amounts of time and money could be saved by ensuring that most of the decisions are right the first time. They are matters of life and death, needing careful consideration. Resources need to be put into professional training for Home Office interviewers and decision-makers, who should not adopt a hostile stance but should pride themselves on getting to the truth of what has happened to the person in front of them. They should also have a grounding in the politics and human rights records of the countries that produce people needing to find sanctuary.
If further evidence is needed to assess an asylum seeker’s account, funding should be provided at an early stage for the sending of further evidence from the country of origin, and for any relevant reports needed – on, for example, torture wounds by a specialised doctor or an assessment of the authenticity of documents from a country expert.
If, after careful consideration of all relevant evidence, there is a refusal by the Home Office, an appeal hearing before an immigration judge could be applied for, and there should be room for a further appeal from either the Home Office or the asylum seeker on errors of law. I would imagine that very few claims would need to go to any higher courts, but those options should not be removed.
Goathland, North Yorkshire
• Priti Patel’s chilling attack on human rights lawyers for having the temerity to challenge her take on asylum reminds one of the attacks on defence lawyers by authoritarian regimes around the world. These threats eventually lead to a law-breaking regime, and not just in a “very specific and limited way”.
Coming up to the start of Stalin’s rule, defence lawyers were vilified as crooks and accused of insulting the Russian people. Then the persecution took more ominous forms. Jailing and intimidation followed. That was not enough. A law was passed barring the presence of lawyers in trials of those that the regime chose to call terrorists. Then Stalin’s henchman, Andrei Vyshinsky, promulgated a theory of the law justifying the use of the legal system to express the power of the regime.