Attending your, or a family member’s immigration appeal, may be the first or only contact you have with a court.

The outcome of the hearing could affect whether you or a family member can continue to live in the place you may have already called home for number of years. Or whether you can have the opportunity to live in the same country as your partner or children.  It is unsurprising then that for many this day will be a cause of significant anxiety and stress.

In this post, we aim to clearly set out what to expect from an immigration appeal taking place at the First Tier Tribunal, so that if you do have a hearing coming up, you might feel more confident about what will happen on the day itself. It assumes that you have instructed a legal representative to assist you, although the process if you are unrepresented is similar in most respects.

Before the hearing

If you have a professional legal representative – or even if you don’t – the vast majority of the work to prepare and ensure that your appeal is successful should have taken place well before the day of your appeal hearing.

Witness statements and supporting evidence, as well as a detailed written document setting out the legal basis of your case (‘a skeleton argument’), will be sent to the Tribunal in advance of your hearing date.

The purpose of the hearing itself, then, is to allow the Immigration Judge to hear oral evidence from you or your witnesses live, and to give an opportunity for you to be asked questions about any aspects of your case which may not be accepted by the Home Office, or which are not clear to the Judge.

The Judge will also benefit from hearing the legal representatives making oral arguments about why the Judge should dismiss (refuse) or allow (accept) your appeal.  Your advocate will not be able to go through every piece of evidence in your case verbally, but will be able to decide what parts of the case are most problematic, or need discussion with the Judge in more detail, and can tailor their spoken arguments on your behalf to the Judge based on that professional judgement.

Arriving at the tribunal

When you arrive at one of the First Tier Tribunals, you will need to sign in, if in-person, or log in using the link provided if your hearing is taking place remotely.

The court rooms are small and quite mundane – they often feel like a meeting room in an office rather than what many people expect to see when they are preparing to go to court.

No one at the immigration First Tier Tribunal will be wearing traditional gowns and wigs or ceremonial clothes – the court clerks, judges and lawyers all wear normal business suits. There are no gavels.

Present in the virtual or actual court room will be a clerk, whose role is to manage the hearing room and all those involved in the cases being heard by the judge that day, legal representatives (also sometimes called ‘advocates’) – one for you, and one for the Home Office –  and the Judge.

The Tribunals are normal courts, which means that in theory they are open to members of the public, but it was rare even before COVID that you might find members of the public not linked to the court or judicial system itself attending immigration Tribunal hearings.  Most likely the only people present in the room during your hearing will be those who are involved in the case.

The hearing

At the start of the hearing, the Judge may have a brief ‘housekeeping’ discussion with the two legal representatives to make sure everyone has the right paperwork and to confirm how many witnesses there are and sometimes to try and agree what the legal issues to be decided are.

The Judge should introduce him or herself to you and if you have requested help with translation, you should have an opportunity to check that you understand the court interpreter.

The next thing to happen will be that the witnesses will give their evidence in court.  This usually starts with the person whose appeal it is.  They will be asked to confirm their name and address and to confirm that any witness statement they have submitted to the Tribunal is their true account.

The Home Office’s representative will then be able to ask the witness any questions.  How well this is done and how long this might take depends very much on the individual Home Office representative.  Many of the Home Office’s court advocates at the First Tier Tribunal level have quite minimal training, legal knowledge and experience.

Your representative will have a chance to ask a few follow up questions if necessary to clarify or correct anything from your oral evidence, and occasionally a Judge might want to ask you their own questions.

After all of the witnesses have given their evidence, the Judge will expect both advocates to make ‘submissions’.  In essence, this means they want the advocates to summarise and try to persuade the Judge why the appeal should be refused (the Home Office’s advocate) or why the appeal should be successful (your advocate).

And that’s usually all there is to it.

After the hearing

As a rule of thumb, most First Tier Tribunal hearings don’t last much longer than 2 hours from start to finish.  If there is only one person to give evidence, you could find that your hearing takes less than an hour.

At the end of the hearing, in all but the most straightforward cases, the Judge will usually indicate that they will ‘reserve’ their decision.  This means they will not make a decision on the day, but will go away and look at all of the evidence and their notes and make a written decision (‘judgment’ or ‘determination’) several weeks after the date of the hearing.  The written decision should be sent to you, and to your legal representatives if you have them, and should give detailed reasons for any decision made.

Whilst it is possible to attend the Tribunal without a legal professional as your advocate, there are a number of very good reasons why it is a good idea to have an experienced professional with you to prepare your case and to present it on the day, not least to help you feel less anxious about your case and your future.

If you need advice on any refusal decision or Tribunal appeal case you may have, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  We can offer a service ranging from one off consultations to get some clear advice for you to take away and consider, to a tailored end to end legal service to fully prepare and present your appeal to give you full peace of mind.

Please take a look at our fees page for an idea of how much standard First Tier Tribunal appeals may cost.