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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 March 2004, 13:05 GMT
Asylum laws under fresh attack
Refugees en route to the UK
Failed asylum seekers to lose appeal
Government plans to limit asylum seekers' rights of appeal have come under fierce assault with legal experts warning they could cost lives.

The Law Society, the Bar Council and Justice have joined senior judges in calling for the plans to be abandoned.

Pressing ahead with the "unprecedented and unconstitutional reforms" would prompt a major clash between government and the judiciary, they warned.

The reforms, in the Asylum Bill, go to the House of Lords on Monday.

The Chairman of the Bar Council, Stephen Irwin, went so far as to predict the controversial reforms could put lives at risk.

People died

"Ministers should imagine being in the House of Commons in two years' time when a number of wrong decisions have been taken and people have been deported to countries like Sierra Leone or the Congo or somewhere similar and they are now dead.

"If the minister, David Lammy, or the Home Secretary David Blunkett is listening to questions because people have died because there was no appeals decision, then I would not want to be in his shoes."

President of the Law Society, Peter Williamson, said: "The implications are immense. These are unprecedented and unconstitutional reforms."

He has written to Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer urging him to abandon the reforms and attacking Mr Blunkett's claims that lawyers were abusing the judicial system by deliberately dragging out asylum appeals cases.

Rule of law

"Comments of that sort demean not only the home secretary but the government as a whole.

"Even if it were true that there was a significant problem of abuse of judicial reviews in these cases, the government's proper response would be to remove the scope for abuse."

Branding the proposals "indefensible" he warned the government should come up with alternatives or face a "prolonged damaging controversy on the House of Lords".

The proposals have already come under attack from the country's most senior judge, Lord Woolf, for going against the basic principle of the rule of law.

Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes has said in the past reform of the appeals system is essential, describing the current system as "perverse" because people have an incentive to string it out.

This meant it takes up to 15 months before appeal rights are exhausted and she wants the changes, which give asylum seekers the chance of one appeal to the new independent immigration tribunal, to bring "quicker and better" decisions.

A spokesman for the department of constitutional affairs later added the government was still prepared to listen to any constructive suggestions, but was determined to reform the current system.

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