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Opening the hearing

Chapter number: 
33
Section: 
The Hearing
Last updated: 
30 November 2014
Best Practice Guide to Asylum and Human Rights Appeals
by Mark Henderson & Alison Pickup

33.1 If your case has a case owner, you may be able to engage in sensible discussion prior to the hearing date. Otherwise, you may be able to contact the HOPO by telephone in advance of the hearing date. Unfortunately, beyond confirming whether or not he has your material, the HOPO is very likely to indicate that he does not intend to familiarise himself with the file until the eve of the hearing. (As indicated in chapter 27, it may be helpful to note this if he subsequently tries to take a point on late submission of evidence.)

33.2 When you arrive at the hearing centre, you will be handed a form to complete confirming that you are not prohibited from providing representation under s.84 of the 1999 Act.

33.3 See the HOPO beforehand and check that you have everything he has submitted or plans to submit, and that he has everything you have submitted. You should also explore with the HOPO whether there is any scope to narrow or agree any issues, if it was not possible to do so at a CMRH or otherwise in advance of the hearing date. HOPOs vary greatly in the degree to which they will co-operate in defining the issues. It has not been unknown for the HOPO to refuse even to discuss the case with you until the judge enters the room on the ground that this would be 'unprofessional'!

33.4 The first thing you are likely to be asked by the Tribunal is to confirm whether you are ready to proceed with the hearing. At this point, you should indicate whether you have any adjournment request or an application to be put back in the list (for example, because a witness is late, or because the Home Office wants to submit further evidence upon which you need to consider your position). The HOPO will also make any adjournment application at this stage. Deal with any issues concerning exclusion of the public or anonymity (chapter 32).

33.5 The Tribunal will want to check that it and the parties have the same documents. Neither the HOPO nor the judge can necessarily be relied upon to have everything that you have served on the Home Office and the Tribunal. You should therefore ensure that you are in a position to provide details of when and how your evidence was served.

33.6 If any attempt to engage the Home Office in useful negotiations has so far proved futile, the opening discussion provides a further opportunity to seek to define the issues. The HOPO may be asked whether he has anything he wishes to add to the refusal letter. Normally he will not, in which case you may confirm with him, in front of the Tribunal, that he is not raising any new issue at the hearing. You will normally object to any new basis for refusal being advanced at this stage if it could have been raised in advance.

33.7 If you have submitted evidence such as medical reports or documentary corroboration in compliance with directions and the Home Office has given no indication that it disputes them, you should object if the HOPO raises any specific objection to them at the hearing (for example, that an arrest warrant is forged, or that a medical expert's methodology is deficient).

33.8 The HOPO may openly justify the lack of prior notice on the ground that he was only briefed the day before the hearing. Your client will be nervous enough about facing cross-examination without you starting by needlessly antagonising the HOPO: he may privately be equally critical of the Home Office's conduct of the appeal, but powerless to do anything about it.

33.9 Your argument is with the Home Office, and the HOPO's admission assists you. If its failure to provide proper notice of its case is simply down to briefing the HOPO very late (rather than some unavoidable circumstance), that is a powerful argument in favour of not permitting the Home Office to advance new allegations for the first time at the hearing. The undesirability of any adjournment that fairness would otherwise require to enable you to respond to the new allegation is a further factor militating against the allegation being permitted.

33.10 If the refusal letter has made specific but unsourced allegations against your client, then you should query these at the start of the hearing (if you have not already done so at a CMRH). The same applies if an allegation appears to be based on a mistake or misunderstanding of the evidence. You can assume that the HOPO intends to cross-examine on the arguments set out in the refusal letter. There is no reason why your client should have to respond to misconceived and mistaken allegations, and it saves everyone time to sort these out at the start of the hearing.

33.11 If you have submitted evidence which refutes an assertion in the refusal letter, ask the HOPO if he will now withdraw it, and if not, what evidence he intends to call. HOPOs again vary in their approach to this process. But a reasonable HOPO will often withdraw the offending paragraphs from the refusal letter if you convince him that they are mistaken or insupportable. This process also reminds everyone that this is an appeal against the Home Office's decision rather than an unfettered investigation into your client's credibility and character.

33.12 See also para 30.6 for opening where you do not intend to call the appellant.