Clause 62 - Tribunal charging power in respect of wasted resources

Part of Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:45 pm ar 2 Tachwedd 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:45, 2 Tachwedd 2021

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Throughout this Bill, some crumbs of legal aid have been provided in different circumstances, yet the Bill makes it difficult for lawyers to assist those people for whom legal aid is provided, and now they seem to be penalised for not being able to put forward the best case they can.

It is a well-established fact that access to justice includes equal protection under the law. Solicitors are fundamentally obliged to act in their clients’ best interests, which may involve adjourning a case due to a change in circumstances that they are not at liberty to disclose. That principle admits of no distinction between British nationals and foreign nationals, and those who are subject to UK law are entitled to its protection. In the context of UK immigration tribunal hearings, through which people subject to immigration control—non-citizens who cannot exercise democratic rights to shape the legislation to which they are subject—seek to vindicate their position against the state, that principle ought to warn against bearing down on them and their lawyers through an extra costs order and charging order regime that is inapplicable to British nationals in the wider courts and tribunals system.

Immigration tribunals already have the powers that they need to regulate their own procedures—as I have mentioned, they have case management powers, a costs jurisdiction and referral powers. Taking each in turn, they have extensive case management powers, as set out in rules 4 to 6 of the Tribunal Procedure (First-tier Tribunal) (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) Rules 2014. Those tribunals already have a costs jurisdiction that enables them to make wasted costs orders against lawyers through the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007:

“(4) In any proceedings mentioned in subsection (1), the relevant Tribunal may—

(a) disallow, or

(b) (as the case may be) order the legal or other representative concerned to meet, the whole of any wasted costs or such part of them as may be determined”.

Wasted costs are defined as

“any costs incurred by a party—

(a) as a result of any improper, unreasonable or negligent act or omission on the part of any legal or other representative or any employee of such a representative, or

(b) which, in the light of any such act or omission occurring after they were incurred, the relevant Tribunal considers it is unreasonable to expect that party to pay.”

That costs jurisdiction is given further effect by the rules of procedure set out in rule 9 of the 2014 rules. An order for wasted costs may be made

“where a person has acted unreasonably in bringing, defending or conducting proceedings. The Tribunal may make an order under this rule on an application or on its own initiative.”

In practice, tribunals have the power to regulate their own procedure to avoid its abuse. In the context of applications for judicial review in the High Court, it is recognised that the Court may refer a lawyer to their professional regulatory body, such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority, where their conduct warrants it, thus potentially leading to disciplinary proceedings. A legal representative may be asked to show why the conduct should not be considered for referral to the relevant body, or why they should not be admonished. An immigration tribunal might consider making such a referral in appropriate cases. Alternatively, it may decide that the conduct might not be so serious after all and restrain itself.

In clause 62, the Government seek to give immigration tribunals additional new powers, so that they may charge a participant an amount of money if it is considered that the participant

“has acted improperly, unreasonably or negligently, and

(b) as a result, the Tribunal’s resources have been wasted”.

The fine would be a separate matter from the costs incurred by a party, and it would be payable by the other party. The charge would be paid to the tribunal. In this context, participants who may be ordered to pay a charge in respect of immigration tribunal proceedings include

“(a) any person exercising a right of audience or right to conduct the proceedings on behalf of a party to proceedings,

(b) any employee of such a person, or

(c) where the Secretary of State is a party to proceedings and has not instructed a person mentioned in paragraph (a) to act on their behalf in the proceedings, the Secretary of State.

(4) A person may be found to have acted improperly, unreasonably or negligently…by reason of having failed to act in a particular way.”

However, we are not told what that “particular way” is.

Clause 62 provides that rules may be made and may include the “scales of amounts” to be charged, and it is wrong that no framework has been provided for the scales of amounts to be charged. As a rationale for this innovation, it is said that:

“High levels of poor practice around compliance with tribunal directions, which disrupts or prevents the proper preparation of an appeal, can lead to cases being adjourned at a late stage.”

No actual evidence is adduced to support that proposition or to demonstrate that existing case management powers, wasted costs powers and powers of referral are inadequate to deal with such matters.

Clause 62 seeks to amend the cost provisions in the 2007 Act in order to put greater emphasis on making an order on grounds of unreasonable behaviour. A tribunal may make an order in respect of costs in any proceedings if it considers that a party, or its legal or other representative, has acted unreasonably in bringing, defending or conducting the proceedings. This is a power to make a costs order against a party and/or their lawyer. Unlike in considering wasted costs, the behaviour identified is solely that which is unreasonable, not behaviour that is improper or negligent. In carving out unreasonable behaviour in this way, there is a risk that the high threshold that applies in the wasted costs jurisdiction is lowered, and that such orders are made where the ordinary difficulties of running an immigration case have impeded its progress. It is unclear why additional regulatory measures are thought to be needed, indicating that the proposal is unnecessary. The tribunal procedure rules already have provisions for wasted costs, and tribunals have the power to refer cases of improper behaviour to the regulator.

Clause 63 provides that:

“Tribunal Procedure Rules must prescribe conduct that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, is to be treated as—

(a) improper, unreasonable or negligent for the purposes of” a charge in respect of wasted resources. Where the prescribed conduct occurs, the person in question will be treated as having acted improperly, unreasonably or negligently unless they can show evidence to the contrary, so there is a rebuttal presumption in relation to this. Here too there is a risk that conduct that does not meet the test for being unreasonable allows a wasted costs order to sneak back in. It is also not clear how wasted resources will be defined or quantified, which may lead to satellite litigation challenging the fine itself or the amount imposed, further increasing the burdens on a system already under immense pressure. The rules make provisions to the effect that if the tribunal is satisfied that the conduct has taken place, it must consider whether to impose a charge or make a costs order, though it is not compelled to do so.

According to the Home Office, in immigration tribunals,

“A range of conduct on the part of legal and other representatives…in the way proceedings are conducted or pursued” is

“disrupting or preventing the proper preparation and progress of an appeal”,

but once again, no evidence is adduced to support that proposition, or to demonstrate that existing case management powers, wasted costs powers, and the power to refer are inadequate to deal with such matters.

Introducing further overlapping and potentially duplicative regulatory requirements may have the perverse impact of undermining the effectiveness of all relevant regimes, and increase complexity and bureaucracy. If solicitors are held personally liable for costs that arise for reasons outside their control, it could risk driving a wedge between them and their clients by creating a conflict of interest. The immigration tribunals already have all the case management cost and referral powers that they need to control their procedures. Adding new powers for immigration tribunals without establishing a basis for them in evidence is not necessary and is counterproductive. For the reasons I have outlined, we oppose clauses 62 and 63.