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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 November, 2003, 19:40 GMT
Asylum seekers to face tagging
Failed asylum seekers are removed from the UK
The Home Secretary has unveiled new asylum plans
Asylum seekers could be electronically tagged rather than placed in detention centres, the home secretary has said.

The new powers, to be brought in under an Asylum Bill, would see tagging used for immigrants whose applications have been rejected.

The package of new measures will also reduce asylum seekers' access to an appeals process.

The bill was introduced as Tony Blair achieved his pledge to halve the number of asylum claims in a year.

Care

Introducing the measures, Home Secretary David Blunkett predicted that a new type of tag, which uses satellite technology for pinpointing the wearer's location, would be used within 12 to 18 months.

The bill includes measures to stop the benefits of asylum families who refuse offers of "voluntary" flights home when their applications are rejected.

The government says it intends to go ahead with controversial plans to take into care the children of those families.

Closing down legal aid or stopping that tier of appeals would certainly be throwing out the baby with the bath water
Vera Baird QC
Labour MP
Mr Blunkett said families in this situation would be treated in the same way as any others who "put their children at risk".

Only a "handful" of families would be affected, he said.

But the fact that the plan did not appear specifically in the new legislation - because it would be done under existing laws - could reduce the risk of Labour MPs rebelling against the bill.

Under the proposals, asylum seekers' access to an appeals process would be reduced more severely than previously thought, preventing them applying to the High Court or for judicial reviews.

Blunkett's message

There will also be only one chance to appeal against asylum decisions, change designed to prevent people launching multiple appeals to delay the process.

The plans also include restricting the amount of legal aid available to asylum seekers, which has doubled over the past two years to 174m.

Legal aid will only be paid for five hours of initial advice under the plans and only given for appeals which the Legal Services Commission decides are worth pursuing.

There will also be limits put on the total amount of taxpayers' money that can be spent on different types of cases.

Mr Blunkett said: "I am sending a signal that if you pass through safe countries, you should claim asylum there.

Legal aid row

"We are going to get a grip of this, because gross dishonesty by those who are trafficked by organised criminals is giving genuine asylum seekers a very bad name indeed."

Even the better law firms know there are absolutely rogue advisers who are not even lawyers who are completely ripping off the system
David Blunkett

Earlier, Mr Blunkett told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the government had to get a grip of the legal aid issues.

"At the moment, the sky's the limit," he said. "The law firms certify themselves, even the better law firms know there are absolutely rogue advisers who are not even lawyers who are completely ripping off the system.

"My only regret is that we did not actually get a grip of this a lot earlier but with the new lord chancellor/secretary of state for constitutional affairs , we are now doing that."

'Easy target'

Those comments are being seen as an attack on former Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine.

But Liberal Democrat peer Lord Phillips of Sudbury accused Mr Blunkett of picking on lawyers as an easy target.

"It really is scandalous," he told BBC Radio 4's World At One. "The vast majority of solicitors do a thoroughly conscientious job."

In fact, pay rates for asylum cases were "appalling", argued Lord Phillips, whose own firm was considering stopping doing such work.

'Life or death'

Labour backbencher Vera Baird QC said the Legal Services Commission had powers to act against rogue advisers.

But she was worried by the new restrictions on legal aid and appeals.

"We do want a fair system and the decision on appeal can be the difference between life and death for a genuine asylum seeker," she said.

"Closing down legal aid or stopping that tier of appeals would certainly be throwing out the baby with the bath water."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"If some of these measures sound harsh it's because they're meant to "



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