How are hearings conducted in the Immigration & Asylum Chamber?

The Immigration & Asylum Chamber

Who is involved in a hearing at the Immigration & Asylum Chamber?

The parties involved in a hearing at the Immigration & Asylum Chamber will, in all cases, include the Immigration Judge assigned to the case (or indeed a panel of two or three Immigration Judges). The appellant will be expected to be present, unless the appellant is at that time out of country, in which case a sponsor will appear to give evidence on their behalf; for example if the appeal is against a decision to refuse a family visit visa.

In the hearing, a Home Office Presenting Officer will represent the Respondent; which varies from Visa Officer (for visa cases), Entry Clearance Officer (for out of country appeals) and Secretary of State (for in country and asylum appeals). If the appellant is represented then either counsel or a solicitor will represent on their behalf.

A court appointed interpreter may also be present in order to assist the court by interpreting what the Immigration Judge and advocates are saying to an appellant who does not speak English (well, or at all) and also to interpret into English the appellant’s answers to questions from the advocates. The interpreter is independent and is not given any information about the case beforehand. The appellant’s representative, or the appellant/ sponsor themselves, must request an interpreter to be booked in advance and specify the language and dialect required. It is sometimes possible to arrange an interpreter at the last minute if the hearing centre staff are notified at the beginning of the day.

If the appellant is detained, then members of the relevant security force who have brought the appellant from a prison will remain in the hearing room with the appellant for the course of the hearing. If the appellant is detained for criminal charges then the hearing must be moved to a Crown Court so that the level of security facilities is high enough; if the appellant is being detained for immigration purposes i.e. their criminal sentence has finished but the Home Office believes they should be deported, then the hearing can take place at a normal Immigration & Asylum Chamber hearing centre.

A court clerk may be present to assist with fetching witnesses, photocopying documents, setting up video links or aiding the Immigration Judge in any other suitable ways.

How is the hearing conducted at the Immigration & Asylum Chamber?

The court clerk will gather all the parties ready for the hearing to proceed and then the Immigration Judge will enter the hearing room. It is customary for all parties to rise until the Immigration Judge is seated or indicates for them to sit down. The Immigration Judge will introduce all the parties to the appellant and require a form from the legal representative relating to section 84 of the Nationality, Immigration & Asylum Act 2002. The form outlines how they are legally qualified to act as an advocate in immigration law and by which firm of solicitors they are instructed. If there is a court interpreter present, the Immigration Judge will begin by outlining the role of the interpreter to the appellant and explaining how and in what order the hearing will proceed.

In most respects, an appeal hearing of this kind is adversarial in nature as with any legal proceedings. The appellant’s representative is given the opportunity to ask some questions for clarification at the outset to add to the witness statement to present the Evidence in Chief. Then the Home Office Presenting Officer is invited to test the evidence through cross examination, after which the representative may then re-examine. The Immigration Judge may adopt an inquisitorial style, asking questions of the appellant/ sponsor and advocates for clarification or if they are not satisfied with the level of cross-examination. Finally, the Home Office Presenting Officer and then the representative are invited to give submissions as to how they think the case should be decided.

If there is no legal representative, then the Home Office Presenting Officer will give their submissions as usual and then the appellant will be given the opportunity to respond to the individual points or make their own argument in relation to their immigration appeal. Throughout the appeal hearing, the interpreter will assist the court if necessary and, particularly if there is no legal representative, will provide a quiet summary of the submissions to the appellant whilst the advocates are addressing the Immigration Judge.

The Immigration Judge should be addressed as ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ by all parties, as a mark of respect. The advocates will likely refer to the Immigration Judge as ‘the learned judge’ and each other as ‘my friend’ or ‘my learned friend’.

Is the Immigration & Asylum Chamber a public court?

Yes, anyone can observe a hearing at an Immigration & Asylum Chamber hearing centre. The exceptions are that some cases require an All Female Court due to sensitive information being discussed and at times an application is made by the Home Office to speak to the Immigration Judge ‘in camera’. This means that the appellant, representative and interpreter must leave and no member of the public remain in court as the Home Office will discuss techniques that they use to discover and test forged documents. It is in the public interest to keep these techniques from reaching the hands of those who forge immigration documents and so this part of a hearing is not open to the public.

NB Unless specified, this article refers to the Immigration & Asylum Chamber First Tier and not its Upper Tier.