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AM (Cameroon), R (on the application of) v Asylum & Immigration Tribunal & Anor, [2008] EWCA Civ 100 (20 February) (Court of Appeal 2008)




Neutral Citation Number: [2008] EWCA Civ 100



Case No: C4/2006/0031

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF JUDICATURE
COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)



Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL



20/02/2008

B e f o r e :

LORD JUSTICE WALLER
Vice President of the Court of Appeal, Civil Division
LORD JUSTICE 
RIX
and
LORD
 JUSTICE HOOPER
____________________

Between:


The Queen on the Application of AM (Cameroon)

Claimant


- and -



The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal 
and
The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Defendant

Interested Party

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____________________

Mr Rabinder Singh QC and Amanda Weston (instructed by Messrs Luqmani Thompson) for the Claimant
Mr Martin Chamberlain (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor) for the Defendant
Mr Clive Lewis QC (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor) for the Interested Party
Hearing date : 4th December 2007 

____________________

HTML VERSION OF JUDGMENT
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Crown Copyright ©

Lord Justice Waller :

  1. This is the judgment of the court.

  1. By judgments dated 21st February 2007 we granted AM permission to apply for judicial review of certain interlocutory decisions and indeed the final decision of Immigration Judge Sacks relating to her appeal under section 82 of the National Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (the Act). We thought it arguable that certain interlocutory decisions which had resulted in AM not being able to put in the evidence of two witnesses, and which had refused her an adjournment on the grounds of ill health so that she could not give evidence herself, had prevented a fair hearing. We thought it was arguable that his final decision, to dismiss her appeal on the ground that her version of events was not credible, had been reached in breach of natural justice.

  1. One problem with which we had to wrestle and with which we still must wrestle is that, in addition to applying for permission to move for judicial review, AM had made an application under section 103A and Bean J had made a decision under that section dismissing the application, a decision which under that section was "final". We thought it arguable that AM should be entitled to be placed back in the position before that decision of Bean J was made because of an error by the court in failing to list the Judicial Review proceedings for an oral hearing prior to any decision under section 103A.We adjourned the substantive application to a further hearing before the same constitution. That hearing took place on 4th December 2007.

  1. The facts and circumstances are fully spelt out in the judgment of Hooper LJ ([2007] EWCA Civ 131) and the problems that the case raises and its context appear from all three judgments. Much of the relevant authority is cited in those judgments and we accordingly take those judgments as read.

  1. At the substantive hearing two matters remained open for argument; first whether the court should entertain the complaints advanced where there existed the decision of Bean J under section 103A which, in substance, had rejected those complaints and whose decision under section 103A was by virtue of 103A (6) "final". Second, if so, whether on the facts of the case judicial review should be granted, this question containing two elements – was judicial review appropriate where a form of judicial review on paper under section 103A existed, and if it was appropriate whether there had been a breach of natural justice in this case such that the decision or decisions of the immigration judge should be set aside.

  1. As we made clear in our previous judgments this is a very troublesome case. It is troublesome because it was clearly Parliament's intention that section 103A would introduce a speedy form of judicial review of appeals in immigration cases. Furthermore decisions of the court, including the Court of Appeal, have sought to give effect to that intention. The section provides for an application to have a decision reconsidered to be made on paper without an oral hearing to a High Court Judge; the opportunity to have that review is "only once in relationto an appeal" and the decision of the High Court judge is "final". The Court of Appeal in R (G) v AIT, R (M v AIT) [2005] 1 WLR 1445 has held that the paper procedure "provides adequate and proportionate protection of the asylum seeker's rights" and that accordingly it was proper for a court "to decline to entertain an application for judicial review of issues which have been or could have been the subject of statutory review." The exception contemplated by that decision was that "Judicial review remains open in principle in cases of justiciable errors not susceptible of statutory review." [See quotation in paragraph 106 of Hooper LJ's judgment]. To contemplate that exception, covering more than the rarest of cases, would be contrary to Parliament's intentions and the key question is whether this case falls within that exception.

  1. It is important to add and emphasise that the courts have also been firm in resisting challenges to interlocutory decisions since, if the alleged error persists in the final determination, that decision can be challenged under section 103A and, if exceptions to that approach are common, again the delays which Parliament was intending to curtail will be reintroduced.

  1. On the other hand, if circumstances reveal a denial of justice in the reaching of a decision, to allow that decision to stand is difficult to contemplate. Furthermore, if a mistake by the court may have led to a "final" decision being reached under section 103A, there must arise a question as to whether the claimant should be disadvantaged by such a ruling.

  1. In considering this case on this occasion we plan to consider the matter in stages. Obviously the fact that there has been a section 103A decision and that decision is final is an important factor and if that decision is not to have effect as a final decision it has in some way to be set aside or declared of no effect. If it cannot be set aside or in some way ignored that must be the end of the matter. The first question thus has to be whether that decision can be set aside or said to have no effect.

  1. The main argument of Mr Rabinder Singh QC for AM for being able to ignore the section 103A decision was originally on the following lines. By reference to such authorities as Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission [1969] 2 AC 147 he argued that a decision reached contrary to natural justice is a nullity. If the decision or decisions of the immigration judge were reached in breach of natural justice, those decisions were a nullity. Thus (he argued) since Bean J reached a decision under section 103A by reference to a decision that was a nullity, the decision of Bean J itself must be a nullity, or a decision which can simply be ignored once the underlying decision has been declared a nullity.

  1. We are not persuaded that this line of argument is valid. We can understand the argument that a decision which would otherwise be final may itself be a nullity or not a decision to which the section applies, because that decision itself has been reached in breach of natural justice, but that is not the suggestion in this case. Indeed since Bean J's decision was a judicial decision the concept of it being a "nullity" may not be apposite at all. That concept is applicable to decisions of administrative tribunals not to decisions of a High Court Judge (see in Re RacalCommunications Ltd [1980] 3 WLR 181 and the speech of Lord Diplock at 188C ). If Bean J's decision was itself reached in breach of natural justice, other processes for reopening the decision or holding the decision was not a decision within the section, might be available, but since breach of natural justice vis à vis Bean J is not alleged the allegation of breach of natural justice cannot itself provide a route for setting aside or being able to ignore his decision.

  1. If Bean J's decision is to be set aside or ignored it has to be done by a virtue of something which affects that decision itself or the way it was reached. There cannot be any doubt that under section 103A Bean J had the jurisdiction to examine the question whether the immigration judge "may have made an error of law" (section 103A(2)(a)). Undoubtedly that would include the question whether arguably there had been a breach of natural justice in relation to the process by which the immigration judge's decision was reached. As Mr Chamberlain forcefully points out, and as indeed Waller LJ commented in his previous judgment, the very allegations made in the application for judicial review were allegations repeated in the section 103A paper application. If, therefore, Bean J has decided that the immigration judge has not made an error of law in a way which is finally binding, no fellow High Court Judge or Court of Appeal could interfere with it.

  1. The question is whether there were circumstances affecting the way in which Bean J reached his decision which could lead to the court, i.e. a fellow High Court Judge (remembering we are dealing with an appeal from Stanley Burnton J), being entitled to set aside his decision or ignore his decision. One can see from our previous judgments that there were certain things which concerned us about the way the matter came before Bean J and indeed our judgments would indicate an instinctive feeling that this substantive application should be considered as at a time when there was no decision of Bean J. The question is whether there is a juridical basis for giving effect to our instincts.

  1. The application for judicial review was issued before any decision was promulgated by the immigration judge. The claim form requested an order "staying the hearing and determination of the appeal until she had been given a reasonable opportunity to stabilize her medical condition and attend to give evidence", and requested that "this matter to be considered urgently and in any event no later than 4 p.m. on Wednesday 24 August 2005". At the stage when the claim form was issued, and prior to any final decision, the section 103A procedure was not open to AM, and thus the only means of seeking to stop the immigration judge dealing with the matter if he had unfairly refused the admission of evidence or an adjournment or was acting so unfairly as to disqualify him from sitting on the appeal, was by virtue of judicial review. A court considering that application would have to consider whether interlocutory decisions should be challenged if they were going to persist in the final decision, but certainly if the allegations went so far as to make it arguable that the immigration judge should not be sitting on the appeal at all, that would form a basis for arguing that judicial review of the interlocutory decisions should be permitted. As Rix LJ said in paragraph 114 of his judgment, whether because the claim was not filed until 25 August 2005 or because a box was inappropriately ticked we know not, the claim for a stay was not placed before a judge until 14 September by which time the immigration judge's decision had been promulgated and a stay was refused by Hodge J on that basis.

  1. But Hodge J noted even then, post-final decision, that this was a case in which the question might arise as to whether the appropriate way to challenge the decisions of the immigration judge was "by judicial review or by following the more obvious route of applying for reconsideration".

  1. The application was then considered on paper by Beatson J. He adjourned the matter into open court for an oral hearing with both sides present stating that the case was "materially different from the case of G & M" and that "the defendant's summary grounds of resistance do not address the question why, notwithstanding this distinction, lodging an application for judicial review on 8 September constituted an abuse of process". [We are not clear where he got the date 8 September from, but if he had said 25 August the position would be stronger still]. He thus prima facie was of the view that this case fell within the exception pointed up in G & M. He further stated "There is no application before me of the decision of the Senior Immigration Judge not to reconsider the tribunal decision. If there is one pending it would be appropriate for it to be considered at the same time as the application to move for judicial review".

  1. When (in the light of Beatson J's remarks) an application under section 103A was lodged with the court, those representing AM enclosed the same, under cover of a letter which was marked for the attention of Beatson J and drew attention to Beatson J's direction.

  1. That direction was not complied with. Mr Chamberlain has argued before us that it was rightly not complied with. He submits in his skeleton as follows:-

"31. It is respectfully submitted that, in the light of the above principles, the correct approach to a judicial review application made after the hearing but before promulgation of the decision is to reject it on the ground there is an adequate alternative remedyand that challenges to interlocutory decisions should be brought by way of challenge to the final determination, once promulgated.

32. To direct that a claim for judicial review should be listed with the application for s.103A would also in effect undermine the statutory procedural provision requiring that the latter be considered without a hearing."

  1. We would respectfully disagree. Mr Chamberlain says that these paragraphs are a criticism of the decision of Beatson J and not of the failure in the court to abide by that decision. That is as may be, but it was certainly not for the court staff to take the view that Beatson J's direction should not be adhered to. Furthermore we do not accept the criticism of Beatson J. If there are exceptions as indicated in G & M and, even if only arguably this case fell within the exceptions, it was not only sensible that the application for judicial review came on with any application under section 103A, but right that it should be dealt with before any section 103A decision was reached. The failure to comply with Beatson J's direction was thus a serious error by the court for which AM and her advisers had no responsibility whatever.

  1. If the direction of Beatson J had been complied with, there would have been an oral hearing of AM's application for judicial review before there was any section 103A decision. That would have involved a judge considering whether the case was one where it was appropriate to give permission to move for judicial review, or whether the matter should be dealt with under the section 103A procedure.

  1. The minimum justice seems to require is that AM should be entitled to have the clock stopped at a moment in time when there was no section 103A decision. But can that be achieved?

  1. In our view it is possible to reach that result by the application of the principle which allows, in exceptional circumstances, a judgment, although final and perfected, to be withdrawn by the court that made it – a principle applied in Taylor v Lawrence [2003] QB 528 so far as the Court of Appeal is concerned. The same principle has been held to exist so far as the High Court is concerned but only in the situation in which the High Court is sitting as an appellate court - see Seray-Wurie v Hackney London Borough Council [2002] EWCA Civ 909. But in our view the reason why it has not so far been suggested that the principle applies to judgments of the High Court, other than when sitting at the appellant level, is because so far as High Court judgments are concerned, in the normal course there is the remedy of an appeal, and this principle is only necessary to prevent injustice where there is no other remedy.

  1. It is right to mention that there is a CPR Rule, not, it is fair to say, referred to in argument before us, CPR 3.1 (7) which at first sight could be said to give a general power to any court to reopen its own judgments. It provides:-

"A power of the court under these Rules to make an order includes a power to vary or revoke the order."

  1. CPR 3.1 is dealing with case management powers but CPR 3.1(7) is not apparently limited to such decisions. However it cannot, as has already been said in SCT Finance Ltd v Bolton [2002] EWCA Civ 56 at para 58, be construed as conferring a power on the court at any time "simply to reverse itself because it has changed its mind". Patten J, as the note in the White Book reflects, has suggested limitations on the power conferred by the rule and his view has been endorsed by the Court of Appeal, again as the notes reflect. The note reads:-

"In Lloyd's Investment (Scandinavia) Limited v Ager-Hanssen [2003] EWHC 1740 (Ch); July 15, 2003, unrep., the claimants entered judgment against the defendant after he had failed to comply with conditions imposed on him by an order setting aside an earlier judgment obtained in default of defence. The defendant applied to vary the terms of the setting aside order. In dismissing the application Patten J noted that r.3.1*7) is not confined to procedural orders and that no real guidance is found within the rule or elsewhere as to the possible limits of the jurisdiction. Without intending to offer an exhaustive definition of the circumstances in which the power under the rule is exercisable, his lordship said that, in his opinion, for the High Court to revisit one of its earlier orders, the applicantmust either show some material change of circumstances or that the judge who made the earlier order was misled in some way, whether innocently or otherwise, as to the correct factual position before him. The latter type of case would include, for example, a case of material non-disclosure on an application for an injunction.

. . . .

In Collier v Williams [2006] EWCA Civ 20, the Court of Appeal stated that the power given by r.3.1(7) cannot be used simply as an equivalent to an appeal against an order with which the applicant is dissatisfied. The Court endorsed the approach adopted in Lloyds Investment (Scandinavia) v Ager-Hanssen, op. cit., and said that the circumstances outlined by Patten J in that case are the only ones in which the power should be exercised. In summarising the position the Court said (para. 120) the power should not normally be exercised "unless the applicant is able to place new material before the court, whether in the form of evidence or argument, which was not placed before the court on the earlier occasion"

  1. We mention the above for completeness and do not suggest that CPR 3.1(7) does give some general power to reverse what would otherwise be a final decision under section 103A. If there is to be such a power it must be by reference to something akin to the Taylor v Lawrencejurisdiction.

  1. It is in our view important to see how the Court of Appeal in Taylor v Lawrence reasoned that they had the power to reopen decisions of the Court of Appeal. Lord Woolf quoted a passage from the speech of Lord Diplock in Bremer Vulcan [1981] AC 909, 977 and then said "the final words of Lord Diplock "the doing by the court of acts which it needs must have power to do in order to maintain its character as a court of justice" express the situation here under consideration exactly." A court is there to administer justice and it must have an inherent power to see that it does not become the instrument of injustice. It was important in its reasoning that the party seeking to reopen the decision did not have a remedy elsewhere such as an appeal to the House of Lords. The reasoning in Serray-Wurie was to the same effect. It was concerned with situations where the High Court had made a decision on appeal and had then refused permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal so that there could be no appeal to the Court of Appeal from that decision. To prevent injustice in exceptional circumstances a Taylor v Lawrence jurisdiction was held to exist in the High Court.

  1. In holding that the Court of Appeal had jurisdiction to reopen its own final orders "to avoid real injustice in exceptional circumstances" Lord Woolf in the judgment of the court relied on passages from the judgments Re J (a Minor) [2000] CA Transcript 230. Examples of where a court might set its own decision aside were "a factor which was outside the ambit of the decision itself. For instance, that the court had read the wrong papers in order to come to a decision . . . or as Lord Donaldson had put it "If, for example, a Lord Justice had pre-read two cases and, owing to mischance and perhaps the absence of counsel . . . it was never brought home to him that the case on which counsel was addressing him was not in fact the case to which he was applying his mind. We can see that, in those circumstances, it could be argued that there had not been a decision and if there was no decision, quite plainly s 54(6) does not apply." [Section 54(6) now repealed prevented there being an appeal from a single Lord Justice refusing leave to appeal].

  1. Returning to the circumstances under section 103A, if the court staff had made a mistake in placing papers relating to a section 103A application before a judge and if a decision were taken on the wrong papers, it should, we suggest, be obvious that the court must have power to set aside a decision which was otherwise final. That court would not be a Court of Appeal. It would be the court which made the decision which must have the power to set aside that decision.

  1. The question is whether in this case of AM we are dealing with the type of mistake which brings into play the above jurisdiction. In considering that question it seems to us that it is not just the type of mistake that is material, but also the consequences of the mistake i.e. the degree of injustice that might be suffered if the mistake of the court is not rectified.

  1. It seems to us that the type of mistake made by the court in this instance was of the kind that could give rise to very serious consequences and could thus give rise to the exercise of the Taylor v Lawrence jurisdiction. It is in considering the next stage that the extent of any injustice can be examined.

  1. Before we leave this stage it is right to note that there were documents in the papers placed before Bean J including Beatson J's direction and the letter from AM's solicitors from which Bean J might have picked up the fact that Beatson J's direction was not being adhered to, but it is unsurprising that his attention would not be focusing on that aspect, and the mistake of the court was in not listing the application for judicial review for an oral hearing before any decision was taken under section 103A.

  1. As to whether it is right to exercise the jurisdiction that will depend on the consequences. One tests that, as it seems to us, by seeking to analyse what would have happened if the direction of Beatson J had been adhered to before there existed any decision under section 103A, and comparing that with AM's present position

  1. That takes us to the second stage of the process. If the court had done what it should have done and listed the application for judicial review with both parties present before the oral hearing, the Treasury Solicitor would have had to make up his mind in the light of Beatson J's comments whether the defendants would take their stand on the basis that section 103A was the only appropriate route, without answering any of the allegations made with statements from the immigration judge and tribunal staff, or take that stand but answer the allegations. If he took the first course there would be no answer to the allegations. If he took the latter course the evidence would have been as it was before us.

  1. Counsel for AM would then have sought to argue that this was a case where a full judicial review should take place and that it was unsuitable for the section 103A procedure. Counsel for the Treasury Solicitor would have argued that section 103A was the appropriate procedure.

  1. In Waller LJ's previous judgment he was inclined to think that a judge would have refused to allow a full judicial review and would have ruled that section 103A was the appropriate remedy. He was also inclined to feel that if section 103A had been used that must mean that the actual decision of Bean J must stay in place. We now believe that that inclination was wrong for a number of reasons. First, if there had been oral argument and even if there had been before the judge the evidence that is now before the court, including the statements of the immigration judge and the court staff, it is, we suppose, possible that, rather than having to decide whether the allegations made had produced a total denial of justice, a judge might have considered that since under section 103A the test was whether there "may" have been an error of law, section 103A provided the quickest and most appropriate route. It would not have required a decision on whether there had been any breach of natural justice. A ruling could have been made that there may have been an error of law and the matter should be reconsidered. What however seems to us difficult to contemplate, if oral argument had been allowed, is that a judge could properly have concluded that there was no arguable error and thus decide as Bean J did. As Hooper LJ reflects at paragraph 83 of his judgment Bean J would have been corrected on his misapprehension that AM might have instructed her solicitors not to take part in the proceedings. He would also have had emphasised in oral argument the letter of 17th August, to which he makes no reference. Oral argument would, as it has before us, have made it impossible to hold there was nothing arguable in the allegations being made.

  1. Second, we are all persuaded that a judge would actually have been wrong in this case to use the section 103A procedure and simply send the matter back for reconsideration. Our reason for that view has various threads. First, the section 103A procedure itself is not well-suited to resolving disputes arising on evidence not before the tribunal (see CPR 54.33(3)). Second, to send the matter back for reconsideration by one immigration judge into the conduct of another of the kind alleged in this case, does not seem to us appropriate. We have been referred to XS (Kosovo) – Adjudicator's Conduct – Psychiatric Report) Serbia/Monte Negro [2005] UKIAT 00093, but that was a case where the AIT (an appeal tribunal) examined the conduct of an adjudicator. The review exercise required is more properly conducted by the High Court in its supervisory jurisdiction. Third, section 103A only gives one opportunity to challenge an appeal decision. If AM was right in her allegations, she had never had a fair hearing at all. It would be quite wrong that an unfair hearing, and one that possibly should never have taken place before the particular immigration judge, should count as a hearing at all so as to bring into play the guillotine that section 103A imposes. Third, AM in fact brought her challenge before the decision of the immigration judge had been promulgated. She was saying that the immigration judge should never have decided her case without evidence from her two witnesses and herself and if she was right in the charges she made, she was entitled to have relief which brought about that result, i.e. wiped that immigration judge's rulings and hearing from the slate.

  1. Thus it seems to us that judicial review of the normal kind would have been appropriate and this case falls within the exception identified in G & M. That then brings us to the third stage. A decision would have then have had to be taken on the evidence as to whether there had been the breach of natural justice. As to this final stage, the decisions and actions of the immigration judge must be looked at independently and cumulatively.

(a) The decision not to allow a video or telephone link for the taking of evidence from key witnesses.

(i) Paragraph 45 of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (Procedure) Rules 2005, as recognised by Immigration Judge Sacks (see paragraph 23 of Hooper LJ), gave him the power to admit evidence by video or other electronic link. According to Brian Craven (HOPO) this was refused initially on 28th July 2005 at the Case Management Review because of an absence of facilities at the AIT, the difficulty in verifying the identity of the witnesses at the other end, and the costs implications. Judge Sacks simply says he concluded that it was not appropriate to make the order and that there was adequate time to obtain affidavit evidence. If the reasons were those adverted to by Mr Craven, this initial decision was understandable but would, one would have thought, have been taken with reluctance. It is obvious that where credibility is the issue live evidence going to that very issue which can be subjected to cross- examination must be more suitable than affidavit evidence, and one would expect that if the practical difficulties could be overcome, a reasonable judge would be prepared to reconsider the position.

(ii) However, far from being prepared to reconsider the position, the immigration judge seems to have reacted in a quite unjudicial way. Those representing AM made arrangements that would have overcome any practical difficulties in taking the witnesses' evidence by telephone link or which with co-operation from the Tribunal could have overcome those difficulties. The steps they had taken and what they were seeking were set out in a letter from Mr Bell quoted in paragraph 25 of Hooper LJ's judgment. That letter needed anxious consideration, and indeed the question whether the ruling on 28th July could now be revised needed anxious consideration. It seems that the reaction of the immigration judge to this letter was to feel his authority was being challenged. On Kelly Swan's evidence (and there is no reason not to accept that evidence) the immigration judge's immediate reaction to the letter before any hearing was to tell Kelly Swan to say that the application was refused and "if Mr Bell was not happy with this decision he would have to appeal it". When the matter came on for hearing on 11th August the immigration judge made clear that he was not prepared to hear any argument, stating that his decision was a judicial decision and he was "entitled to exercise his discretion as he thought fit".

Comment

In the light of the change in circumstances relating to the practicality of taking evidence by telephone link, and indeed in the light of the relevance of the evidence which by this time was still not available in written form, it was a clear breach of natural justice for the immigration judge to make up his mind to refuse to reconsider without hearing argument. (Some challenge is made by Mr Chamberlain to the importance of the evidence in his written submissions but even if the barrister's evidence only went to one element of AM's claim, that was important where credibility was the issue).

(b) The manner of behaviour in court

Counsel for AM attempted to persuade the immigration judge to listen to her submissions as to why it was appropriate to reopen the question whether evidence should be taken by a telephone link. She asked for a short adjournment so as to set up a link. One reason she gave for it being so important to have the evidence of the two witnesses from Cameroon was the medical condition of AM as set out in a medical report filed with the court which said she had a serious medical condition with a real riskof death if her blood pressure went up. Once it became clear the judge would not reconsider his earlier ruling she requested a more lengthy adjournment because statements were still not available and because of concern over AM's health. At some stage during this period the judge banged his fist on the table. The judge does not remember this but it is not only the evidence of Bridget McVay, supported by Mr Bell and AM herself, but also that of Mr Craven the HOPO. Mr Craven thought it was banged in frustration, whereas the others thought it was in irritation. AM says that at this stage in the light of the judge's refusal to listen to her counsel and the banging of his fist she became afraid of the judge and she was frightened that she was not being given a fair hearing. She in fact left the court feeling unwell.

Comment

Sometimes, as a judge, one can feel a sense of frustration or irritation but it is vital at such times that one curbs such feelings and remembers the over riding importance of acting fairly and being seen to act fairly. Refusing to listen and banging a fist whether in frustration or irritation is quite unacceptable conduct. It can only give the impression of a mind closed against the party seeking to make himself or herself heard. Furthermore, where the practical difficulties had been overcome, why not use telephonic communication which would, at the very least, have allowed some cross- examination? The memorandum of AIT President quoted in paragraph 29 of Hooper LJ's judgment stated evidently that "such conference calls were not feasible in proceedings before the AIT for both practical and procedural reasons". We are not clear what the "procedural reasons" are but if the practical reasons have been overcome the matter should have been approached with an open mind.

(c) Attitude to medical evidence

During this period also, in refusing an adjournment, the immigration judge described the medical report relating to AM's health as "mere supposition". (This is the evidence of Bridget McVay and AM and confirmed by Mr Craven). This would not only add to the impression that the judge was not viewing the case with an open mind but would obviously cause serious anxiety to a person who did have a serious condition as AM clearly did.

(d) The adjournment and hearing of 18th August

(i) AM left the court. Outside court she in fact collapsed and had to be taken to hospital as described in Bridget McVay's attendance note, quoted in paragraph 35 of Hooper LJ's judgment. The appeal was adjourned but in terms, according to Miss McVay, "only because of her medical condition manifested today" and on terms that the case was reserved to Judge Sacks himself. The adjournment was to 18th August, despite the unavailability of Miss McVay, that date it seems being dictated to some extent by the fact that Judge Sacks was not available for two weeks during September (see paragraph 19 of Bridget McVay's note). The judge ruled that any further adjournment request would have to be supported by medical evidence. By letter dated 17 August Mr Bell for AM wrote to the court reporting receipt of Dr Wohlrab's letter referring to AM's earlier medical reports, her collapse, to the fact that she had been referred to Professor Wilkinson "with a view to control her blood pressure which is dangerously high at present time", that the professor had been requested to see her "at his earliest convenience", and that Dr Wohlrab had stated that AM "is physically unfit to attend court but that she would like to and be given the opportunity to give evidence." The letter continued "As it is possible to control AM's medical condition it is not unreasonable therefore to ask for her case to be adjourned to a later time in September with a view to reviewing her situation again." That application was refused by Designated Immigration Judge Aitken on the basis that it had not been made at least 24 hours prior to the hearing and must be made on the day. Statements from the witnesses in the Cameroon had been drafted and sent back to the witnesses to check but final versions were not available for the next day. (This was notified to the HOPO on 17th August by fax).

(ii) Bridget McVay was unavailable and Mr Bell was not qualified to represent AM and thus someone unfamiliar with the case but accredited, Rehana Haque, was instructed to apply on the 18th August for an adjournment. She applied on the ground that AM was unable to attend and sought a reasonable period to enable AM to recover and for her medication to take effect to control her blood pressure. Judge Sacks refused that adjournment and, according to Rehana Haque, Judge Sacks suggested that if those representing AM did not like the decision they should seek judicial review of it, but when she requested an adjournment for that purpose, the judge refused.

(iii) The representative then refused to take any further part in the proceedings. Such draft witness statements as may have been available were not placed before the judge. What Judge Sacks himself says about what happened on 18th August is set out extensively in paragraphs 58 to 60 of Hooper LJ's judgment. Two quotations will we hope fairly reflect his position first from his witness statement:-

"8. There was an application on 17th August 2005 to adjourn. This was not dealt with by myself. I believe it was dealt with by the Designated Immigration Judge, Mr John Aitken, who refused the application by telephone. The application was renewed on 18th August 2005 and again refused by me. Having considered all the medical evidence that was on the file and having decided that it was sufficient for me to be fully aware of the Appellant's medical condition, I considered that the evidence within the file, including all statements by the Appellant, all documentary evidence, all the objective evidence and all other relevant documents enabled me to deal with this appeal in the absence of the Appellant without, in my opinion, the Appellant being prejudiced.

9. In reaching this decision I had regard to the fact that the medical evidence indicated that no definite date could be given as to when, or if, the Appellant would be fit to attend court at any adjourned hearing. I considered that it was in the interests of none of the parties for this matter to remain outstanding indefinitely, and felt that in view of the fact that there was little likelihood of the Appellant being pronounced fit to attend the hearing in the imminent future, the only course open to me was to proceed to deal with the matter which I proceeded to do.

...

17. With regard to the disposal of this matter on 18th August 2005, I must state that I was extremely surprised by the attitude taken by those representing the Appellant on that occasion, in that they chose to withdraw their representation of the Appellant on my advising them of my intention to proceed notwithstanding the non-attendance of the Appellant. Having withdrawn representation, they then remained in the court to make a note of what then transpired in the hearing of the case."

Then in his judgment following the hearing:-

"50. ...

c) I am satisfied that the medical evidence that has been produced to me from Dr Wohlrab gives an accurate assessment of the Appellant's medical condition. I am further satisfied that the Appellant has been suffering her present problems for the last two years, and that there appears to be no resolution to the problems, and that the future prognosis is uncertain. The medical evidence confirms that until further examination of the client has taken place, and possible further treatment, it would be unwise for her to give evidence in any hearing. This of itself satisfies me that the decision to proceed in the absence of the Appellant was a right and proper decision to make, there being no realistic prospect of a future date being identified when the Appellant would be available to give evidence in this case. To adjourn a case indefinitely for this reason is highly unsatisfactory and is the basis of the reasoning behind my refusal to allow an indefinite adjournment for the purposes of the Appellant to give evidence.

...

s) This is an unusual case in that because of my refusal to grant the Appellant an adjournment on 18th August 2005 to enable her to give evidence, the Appellant's representatives, whilst not withdrawing from representing the Appellant, declined to take any active part in the proceedings before me on 18th August. They did not raise any challenges or make any submissions on their client's behalf. The issue that they take is that the Appellant has been denied the opportunity to give evidence. I am satisfied however, having considered in great detail the papers that were before me, that there was more than sufficient information contained within those papers to enable me to fairly and justly deal with the Appellant's evidence. The Appellant's representatives did not indicate to me what issues they considered clarification was required on. I do not consider that I have in any way been prejudiced by the fact that I have not heard directly from the Appellant. There is more than adequate evidence contained within the file to, as I have previously stated, enable me to deal with this case equitably and justly. I do not consider that this Appellant has in any way been prejudiced. In any event, I could not have permitted a situation to exist whereby I would be granting an adjournment without being aware of when or if indeed this case could have hoped to have been heard. The Appellant has been suffering from her existing condition for the past two years without improvement, there is no suggestion of what treatment she is likely to receive,whether that treatment will be successful, and whether that treatment would have enabled her to be fit enough to give evidence. The risks of the Appellant giving evidence have been clearly identified in the medical report. It is having regard to these risks that I have come to the conclusion that the best way forward for this matter would be to deal with the appeal on the evidence that is contained in the file. It is unfortunate that the Appellant's solicitors did not agree with this course of action and assist me by presenting arguments on her behalf and making the appropriate submissions. This was their choice, however, with which I cannot argue."

(iv) After the hearing, and before the handing down of any decision, affidavits were received from the two witnesses which were received by Judge Sacks on 22nd August. In his conclusions he said this about those statements:-

50 d) There was no application made at the hearing for me to receive late evidence. Despite this, a fax was received from Browell Smith and Co on 22nd August 2005 enclosing what they claimed to be affidavits from two people in Cameroon. In the covering fax they invited me to adjourn my consideration of the case, and once again they asked me to receive evidence by telephone link, an application for which had already been refused. A decision on these issues had been made by me following arguments from both sides at the hearing on 18th August 2005. Accordingly, I do not consider it appropriate to take heed of these documents submitted without permission after the hearing."

Comment

1. To suggest that the appeal could be dealt with in AM's absence and without the evidence she wished to call without the appellant being prejudiced, when the issue was her credibility, is not a view any reasonable judge acting fairly could take.

2. Not to take any heed of statements even though supplied late when AM had not given evidence herself is indicative of an unbalanced view towards AM's appeal.

3. Not to have adjourned at least to September, which was all that was asked, was unfair. There was no request for an indefinite adjournment, and yet the making of such a request was said to be "the point of the reasoning behind my refusal".

4. What appears to have happened is that the immigration judge felt that his authority was being challenged; and he also thought, at least initially, that someone was attempting to pull the wool over his eyes as to AM's ill- health. He determined that those representing AM and indeed AM herself should be shown who was in control; why, otherwise, reserve the case to himself? Clearly there was some form of falling out between those representing AM and the judge and it is clear that he misjudged the seriousness of AM's condition, at least initially. That led him to act in a way which gave the appearance of lack of impartiality. AM's advisers may also, as a result, have been themselves led to act unwisely. We are doubtful, for example, whether to appear and request an adjournment and then pointedly take no further part rather than struggle as best one could was wise. But on any view it seems to us that AM has simply not had any fair hearing of her appeal through no fault of her own, and the real cause of that having happened was the conduct of the immigration judge.

Conclusion

  1. AM has established, and would have established if the case had been listed for an oral hearing before there was a section 103A decision, that this is one of those rare cases where the traditional judicial review was appropriate. She has also established that, if that application had been heard before there was a section 103A decision, she would have been entitled to an order that (1) the application to take her witnesses' evidence by telephonic link should be set aside and reconsidered, (2) that the decision of the immigration judge not to adjourn her appeal should be set aside and thus (3) that the decision on the appeal itself should be set aside, and her appeal considered afresh. It follows also that she has established that if the decision of Bean J is not set aside AM would suffer a serious injustice for which there is no other remedy and that his decision should have been set aside by Stanley Burnton J.

  1. We should perhaps add this. The position of immigration judges is not easy. Applications for adjournments must be commonplace and by the rules they are encouraged to resist them. Applications based on the grounds of ill health have to be scrutinised with care. But at all times, in seeking to carry out that difficult task, the judge must remember above all that those who come before them must feel that justice has been fairly administered. In seeking to carry out that difficult task on this occasion this judge fell below what is required.

  1. We would order (1) that Judge Sacks' refusal to reconsider the application to have evidence taken by telephonic link should be set aside and reconsidered by a different immigration judge and (2) that Judge Sacks' decision on AM's appeal be set aside and her appeal be heard by that or some other, different immigration judge.