Taxpayers paid £57m to lawyers who successfully fought Government attempts to deport suspected terrorists and illegal immigrants
Two former justice ministers today urge Boris Johnson and the Government to rethink the practice to end such big pay-outs CREDIT: WPA POOL/GETTY IMAGES EUROPE
Taxpayers have had to foot a £57.5 million bill to pay off lawyers who successfully fought Home Office attempts to deport suspected terrorists, foreign criminals and illegal immigrants.
They have had to pay or settle the legal costs of lawyers who have often used European human rights laws to outflank the Home Office and win cases for their clients.
The 6,098 cases covering four years from 2014/15 to 2017/18 have involved foreign criminals, illegal immigrants and asylum seekers whom the Government unsuccessfully attempted to send back to their homelands, according to figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws.
It includes lawyers for hate preacher Abu Qatada who got £57,000 from the Home Office after they initially defeated its bid to send him back to Jordan to face terrorism charges. The Home Office paid their charges at a rate of £330 an hour.
Radical al-Aaida linked preacher, Abu Qatada CREDIT: MOHAMMAD HANNON/AP
Two former justice ministers today urge Boris Johnson and the Government to rethink the practice to end such big pay-outs.
Mike Penning, a former policing and justice minister, said: “The Prime Minister needs to add this to his list of legislation that needs to be changed.
“If these people have been convicted and are not conducive to the public good, people won’t understand why we are paying out this money to lawyers abusing the legal system rather than spending it on the NHS.”
Oliver Heald, who was also a former Government law officer as solicitor general, said the Home Office should pay out where there was a serious mistake, but any awards should be “taxed on a reasonable basis so that it’s not possible to make a fortune out of these cases.
“They should be decided on a moderate basis rather than an expensive one. This is something the Ministry of Justice may wish to review.”
The £57.5 million for the 6,000 cases – equivalent to 30 every week for four years – excludes the additional £28.4 million that the Government had to pay for its own legal costs.
Oliver Heald, former Government law officer CREDIT: CHRIS MCANDREW / UK PARLIAMENT
The total of £86 million means the average case ends up costing the taxpayer more than £14,000 in legal fees.
Complex procedures around legal fees mean the Government can be forced to pay out extra payments on top of these to lawyers who successfully challenge legal rulings.
It is supposed to act as compensation to solicitors who may take on some cases where they lose and then end up potentially out of pocket with nobody to pay their costs.
But others believe the “No Win No Fee” culture has gone too far with lawyers able to get away with huge costs’ bills for winning cases against the state.
Other cases included lawyers for Kevin Kiarie, who fought deportation after being convicted of drug offences, who were paid expenses of £194,353. They won the case on the basis that having to appeal from abroad was a breach of his human rights under EU laws.
Human rights lawyers also won a court case claiming it was unfair to send migrants back to the EU country where they first arrived – and sent taxpayers a £600,000 bill for their work.
The lawyers, who charged £330-per-hour, represented an Iranian and three Eritreans who had smuggled their way into the UK after first claiming refugee status in Italy. Once in the UK, they lodged claims to stay here saying it would breach their human rights if they were sent back to Italy.
The Home Office said it took seriously its duty to spend public money effectively. Given the volume of cases, it was “unsurprising” it faced a number of legal challenges: “We have a good track record in defending Judicial Reviews of decisions but remain committed to learning where the Courts do not find in our favour.”