Building on new research evidence, the High Court ruled that the Detained Fast Track process for asylum seekers was unfair – ceasing the practice and securing more reasonable preparation time for asylum cases.

Impacts

  • Evidence from Dr Nick Gill's research into British asylum procedures helped secure a High Court judgment that the Detained Fast Track (DFT) appeals process was unfair and unlawful. This judgment was later upheld by the Court of Appeal, leading the government to suspend the entire DFT system in July 2015.
  • After the suspension of DFT, more than 300 asylum seekers in the fast-track process were released from detention, 200 of whom had already had their claims for asylum rejected – giving them more time to prepare their asylum cases.
  • Due to the Court of Appeal's ruling, any future Home Office scheme to speed up the asylum process would have to meet stringent conditions, including setting clear and workable criteria for who goes onto the Fast Track, providing evidence to justify constraints on judges' powers to set timescales case-by-case, and providing evidence that the current approach is not working.

"It seems highly unlikely that the Home Office will be able to reintroduce a Fast Track in anything close to its previous form, so Nick Gill's research has very probably contributed to the end of this unfair system." (Jerome Phelps, Director of Detention Action)

About the research

The Detained Fast Track (DFT) system, introduced by the government in 2003, kept asylum seekers in detention while a decision on their case was speeded through by the Home Office. "The system was intended for use in what were considered the most straightforward cases," explains Dr Nick Gill, "with the aim being to handle a case in a matter of days, when the usual timescale was typically many months."

By 2013, more than 4,300 asylum cases were determined by the fast-track route. Many of these, Dr Gill points out, were far too complex for that process. A close study of more than 60 DFT cases, including case observations by researcher Dr Rebecca Rotter, made it clear that the system was not allowing detainees sufficient time to make their case properly.

"Applicants often didn't understand the process they were going through or why they were in detention, nor the legal rights available to them, and struggled to find legal representation before their hearings," Dr Gill says. "The consequences of making a wrong decision on an asylum claim could be catastrophic and lead to someone forcibly returned to face torture or violence."

Working with Jerome Phelps, Director of Detention Action, and The Migrants' Law Project (which represented Detention Action in the High Court and the Court of Appeal), Gill was able to provide them with evidence to make their case. This evidence helped convince senior judges that asylum seekers faced real and not just theoretical difficulties in making their case, and that the fast-track process was ultimately 'structurally unfair'.