Appeal hearings: how you can prepare

If your asylum, immigration or human rights application is refused by the Home Office, you may have the right to appeal.

Read more in our Toolkit here about which kinds of cases may have a right of appeal if refused.

You only have 14 calendar days to submit your appeal application. Read more about submitting an appeal in the Toolkit here.

Once you have submitted your appeal application, you may be waiting many months for the date of the appeal hearing.

The appeal hearing will take place at a type of court called the First-Tier Tribunal. You case will be heard by a judge, who is independent from the Home Office.

What happens on the day?

⏰ Your appeal will be listed to start at 10am. You should arrive at the Tribunal long before this.

Make sure you’ve looked at where the Tribunal is and arranged how will you get there in advance. If you are receiving asylum support, the Home Office will pay for your travel, but you need to ask them to do this.

Everyone is told their hearing starts at 10am – the judge decides on the day which order they will hear the cases. At some Tribunals, they list cases at 10am or 2pm but this doesn’t happen everywhere.

⏰ Go through security. You will need to go through a metal-detector gate and if you have a bag, it will be searched.

⏰ Let the reception or a clerk know you have arrived (they work for the Tribunal and are responsible for getting people into the right hearing room at the right time). There will be lists of which cases are in which hearing rooms on display.

⏰ If you have a barrister/counsel (see below) representing you, you should have chance for a quick discussion with them before 10am.

⏰ The judge will decide which case will go first, so you will either be taken by the clerk into the hearing room (the judge won’t be in the room yet), or you will sit and wait till the other hearing(s) has finished. You might be at the Tribunal all day so you should take some food with you. There is usually water available, and vending machines for tea and coffee.

If you have children, think about whether anyone can look after them. It’s a very long day for them to hang around at the Tribunal and some judges will not allow them into the hearing room. There are usually some books and basic toys available, but if you are taking children with you, make sure you’ve got food and snacks for them, someone to look after them while you are in the hearing room, and plenty of things to keep them occupied!

⏰ When the judge enters the hearing room, you need to stand up (if you are able to). Sometimes this isn’t until around 10:15 or later. If you are the second hearing and the judge is already in the room, you just go in and sit down.

⏰ The judge will make some preliminary statements. They should ask the interpreter (if you need one) to speak with you and check you understand each other. The interpreter is provided by the Tribunal.

⏰ If you have a legal representative, they will speak first. They will usually ask you to confirm your name and address, “adopt” your witness statement, and draw out a few key points. They may not speak for a very long time at this point. If you don’t have a legal representative, read the information in our Toolkit here about making your argument in the hearing.

⏰ If the Home Office have sent a representative (a “presenting officer”), that person will then “cross-examine” you. This means they will ask you questions – often difficult questions – about your evidence and your case. This might last for around 30 minutes, maybe more. The judge may also ask questions if something isn’t clear. If there is no representative from the Home Office, the judge will usually ask you quite a lot of questions (in their place).

⏰The Home Office representative will then make “submissions”. These are their legal arguments about why they think the judge should dismiss your appeal.

⏰After this, you can speak to your lawyer if you need to. This is important if the Home Office representative has said things that your lawyer hasn’t planned on talking about – things that might have just come up in the hearing.

⏰ Your lawyer then makes submissions, about why your appeal should be allowed. The judge may ask questions of your lawyer but usually not of you directly at this point.

⏰ The judge will then say some closing words, and should let you know how long you can expect to wait for their decision. This is usually 2-3 weeks. On some occasions, the judge will tell you their decision immediately.

Observations from observing

We produce resources (like this) and run workshops on the asylum and immigration process. To help us do that, we sometimes observe appeal hearings – and we’ve written about that recently here. We speak to people about their experiences of their appeal hearings, as well as groups supporting them, and lawyers taking part in them.

Here’s a few things we think it’s useful for people to know if they’ve got an appeal hearing come up:

If you have a legal representative who has submitted your appeal application, and prepare for the hearing (this might be the same lawyer doing both of these, or you might have had a different lawyer submitting your appeal) it is unlikely that that person will be your representative in court.

Your lawyer will usually have “instructed” a barrister (a different lawyer) to represent you in the Tribunal. You will probably hear this person referred to on the day as “counsel”.

You probably won’t see this lawyer again (unless you are appealing at a higher level and the same person is representing you). You will normally go back to your usual lawyer (a solicitor or caseworker) to find out the result of the appeal and your options after that.

Are there discrepancies or errors in records of your interviews? In an asylum case, this could be differences in what you said in your screening interview and substantive interview; or differences in what you said in an interview and what the “country guidance” says.

If so, has this been addressed by you/your lawyer? This might be through a witness statement submitted to the Tribunal as part of your evidence “bundle”.

It’s common for errors or discrepancies that haven’t been addressed (and even those that have) to be brought up by the Home Office when they cross-examine you.

Have you checked the evidence that has been submitted on your behalf? This can be tricky if you don’t read English, but you should try and get help to do this.

We’ve seen appeal hearings where evidence has been submitted that includes information that is unhelpful to the person’s case, and it hasn’t been spotted by the legal representatives.

You need to be ready to answers questions about your evidence, yourself, and in an asylum case, your story and your fears about going back to your country.

But we’ve noticed how in some hearings, especially if you have a legal representative, you might end up not saying very much at all! The hearing is quite a rigid process, and there are very specific times when you are allowed to speak. You may even be asked by the judge to keep your answers short, or just answer “yes” or “no”.

It’s also common for there to be long periods when no-one is looking at you! This is because the judge, and your lawyer and the Home Office representative (if they are present) will be busy writing notes of what has been said. There is no audio-recording of the proceedings (unlike, for example, when you request this for an asylum substantive interview).

You can read more about the appeal hearing in our Toolkit here, and also watch this video from Asylum Aid.

Preparing for the unexpected

It’s essential to prepare for your appeal hearing, but it can be very difficult to know what to expect.

  • What mood will the judge be in? They can be sympathetic, patient, neutral, distant, or even irritable and rude.
  • Will the Home Office send someone to attend? Many hearings will proceed without a Home Office Presenting Officer. If there is one in attendance, they may be neutral and efficient, even friendly and polite, or hostile and aggressive.
  • Will the hearing even take place, or will there be an adjournment because there isn’t an interpreter available, or the Home Office haven’t done what they need to do?
  • How long will I have to speak to my legal representative before the hearing for? We’ve seen “counsel” arrive well in advance of the hearing time and have in-depth chats; some arrive just before 10am. There are consultation rooms for you to have a private discussion; in some very busy Tribunals like Taylor House in London, people are forced to have these conversations in the waiting areas, surrounded by everyone else.
  • What will my legal representative be like? We’ve seen brilliant representatives at work, shepherding the judge through complex evidence and sensitive issues and facilitating the best possible presentation of the case. We’ve also seen performances fall far short of this, with representatives seemingly unversed with the details of the case and even using legal arguments that are incorrect.
  • Everyone is told to arrive for 10am – will I have my hearing straight away, or will I be waiting around for hours?
  • Will the hearing take hours, or could it be over in 30 minutes? This often depends on the complexity of the case, how many issues are being contested, if there are witnesses to speak during the hearing, and if the hearing is being interpreted.
  • Will I have to wait weeks to find out what the judge has decided, or will they decide on the spot?

With so many variables, it might seem impossible or pointless to prepare. There are things that you can’t control, but there are still lots of things you can do to be in a strong position to go through the hearing as informed and confident as possible.

If you have a hearing coming up, or you’re supporting someone who does, think about going to watch someone else’s hearing.

Speak to your lawyer, if you have one, about what will happen on the day. It will usually be another lawyer – a barrister or “counsel” – representing you at the Tribunal but your solicitor can help you prepare.

You even might want to think about doing practice appeal hearings, with friends or other members of a group you’re in, so you feel more confident on the day.



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