I have represented clients in the Immigration Tribunal for many years, and before every case I’ve taken time to explain the procedures to clients, so they fully understand what they are about to experience. In my view, this is an important part of the process and no client should ever enter the Tribunal without knowing what to expect.
Before the hearing
Before my first immigration case I expected it to be like cases I’d handled in other courts where there might be extensive discussion with the lawyer on the other side to seek to agree issues and try to resolve matters before the hearing. In reality, in most immigration cases, it is not known who will represent the Home Office until shortly before the hearing.
Around one week before the hearing it is necessary to lodge all of the documents you intend to rely on before the judge, but it is rare to receive a response from the Home Office. This is an important step in the process, and often the most challenging part isn’t selecting what documents to lodge but making sure you only lodge the relevant documents. I remember when I was starting out my instinct was to lodge all documents which might possibly have a bearing on the case, but over time I’ve realised that this only makes the hearing more difficult as it can be harder to identify the truly relevant documents.
Arriving at the hearing
When we see someone arriving at court on TV, be it in fiction or on the news, there are multiple TV cameras and a crowd of people. Arriving at the Immigration Tribunal in Glasgow is quite different from this. You arrive in a non-descript building and take the lift to the 4th floor. You pass through a metal detector and, instead of being ushered into a grand court room, you report to a small desk in a waiting area. On a busy day there could be another 10 – 15 cases and the waiting room can be quite full.
While appellants in immigration cases receive a letter telling them the case will start at 10am, this is often not the case. Nearly every case is listed at 10am, and a judge will decide in what order to hear the cases on the day.
Over the years I’ve had several cases which haven't called at all due to other hearings overrunning, and part of my job on the day is to keep in touch with the tribunal clerks so I can update my client. Usually, while we wait for the case to be called, I can brief the client on what to expect from the Home Office representative and the particular Judge assigned to the case. This can be invaluable as each Judge and Home Office representative has their own approach and expectations on how the case should be presented.
During the hearing
Clients often expect that their day in court will be an opportunity to explain their story and why they should stay in the UK, but the reality is different. The majority of evidence is given in the form of a written statement prepared well before the hearing, but this is a good thing for clients. Preparing a detailed statement is a skill, and it is important that time is taken to do it right, but a well drafted statement can reduce the amount of cross examination from the Home Office.
Cross examination is one area where there is a greater correspondence with the media portrayal of court cases. The Home Office representative will cross examine a witness on the content of their statement. This is another area where an experienced lawyer helping to prepare a case is helpful, cases can be won and lost in cross examination and any witness needs to appreciate how the cross examination process will work.
Once evidence has been given, both sides get a chance to sum up their case, but while clients may expect me to walk around the room making a passionate plea for justice, the reality is that lawyers remain seated during submissions and the content is always restricted to the facts of the case and applicable law.
After the hearing
Clients are often disappointed to discover that they won’t receive a decision on the day, but in all my years of taking cases to the Tribunal I can only think of three that have been granted immediately after the hearing. In most cases the judge will take the papers away, and review them at a later date before providing a written decision. This is an anxious time for clients, and lawyers, as it can be several weeks before the outcome is known.
How can we help?
You only get one chance to get it right before the Tribunal. If you make a mistake in the hearing you can lose your case and it is only possible to appeal if the Judge has applied the law incorrectly. An experienced lawyer can help you to avoid mistakes by:
- Helping to prepare and lodge the right evidence for your case;
- Helping to prepare your witness statement. We can’t draft it for you, but we know what sort of questions you will be asked and we can make sure your statement contains the right information;
- Preparing you for cross examination, we can’t tell you what to say but we can help reduce the chance that you’ll be surprised by the nature of a particular question; and
- Representing you before the Tribunal. Appearing before a Judge for the first time is a nerve wracking experience and it is easy to forget a crucial point in the heat of the moment. We can make submissions on your behalf, so you don’t need to worry about missing something.
We act on a fixed fee basis and only advise you to go the Tribunal if it’s in your best interests and there are prospects for success. If you would like to discuss your immigration appeal, please get in touch.