Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000

The British Immigration Courts

Max Travers
Policy Press: Bristol
1861341725 (hb)
40.00 (hb)

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The heart of this book is concerned with an ethnographic study of primary purpose and asylum appeals at Hatton Cross, near Heathrow airport, and at Thanet House, in central London during 1996/97. In commenting on the origins of this book two surprising 'facts' are revealed. Firstly, the interest stems from the appointment of Travers' father as an 'immigration judge', (a part-time adjudicator). Secondly, that he had no idea that there had been decades of passionate opposition to immigration controls. This detachment is reflected in both his analysis and method. This is not a book born out of moralistic concern at the inequities of immigration policy and practice. He is critical of sociology which offers a 'selective description of the facts, interspersed with moral commentary'. Indeed, Travers is at pains to distance himself from such judgements and draws his inspiration from symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology for a detached 'micro' examination of the social worlds of four key groups of actors in the appeals process; appellants, politicians, civil servants and practitioners. Here, he seeks to reveal the 'practical problems' faced by these individuals in their particular social settings. Travers does acknowledges the selectivity of this method, noting that he has not looked at the role of solicitors, barristers or the sometimes poor and over-priced service provided to immigrants and asylum-seekers by commercial agents, who were generally regarded with 'distaste' by the 'occupational community' of the courtroom. His limited interviews with asylum-seekers primarily revealed a strong faith in the appeals process.'

New and insightful material is presented through analysis of the process of appeals. Six case studies of primary purpose appeals are used to show how adjudicators decided on the genuineness of an arranged marriage. A frequent argument, made by Entry Clearance Officers, was that where there had been a 'breach of cultural tradition' then this indicated that the primary purpose was to gain entry to the UK. This theme, that advocates of restrictive controls were also advocates of maintaining strong cultural traditions, is noted as a wider feature of immigration debates. The paradox and opportunity that such restrictive controls also provided for women in the UK who sought to resist arranged marriage is also highlighted. This issue arose when the adjudicator asked the sponsor if they were happy to enter into the arranged marriage and Travers found that in some cases women handed in notes asking the court to refuse the appeal. This indication of judicial sympathy is allied to the cultural prejudice held by adjudicators against arranged marriage which is exemplified. In examining the question of whether there was a 'culture of refusal' in primary purpose appeals, he charts the rise of refusals form 4% (1977) to a high point of 47% in 1984 and a subsequent decline to 20% in 1995 as it was acknowledged that the rule 'was on its way out'.

A parallel set of six case studies and questions relating to decision-making and refusals are used to examine asylum appeals. Here, the majority of asylum appeals were found to be refused of grounds of credibility often prior to and irrespective of the question of assessing the risk of persecution if the person returned to their country of nationality. The norms of the 'occupational community' of the courtroom were to become 'case-hardened' to 'evidentially -weak' cases. Travers cites the example of Indian appellants who made up about 17% of appeals all of whom were unsuccessful where there was seen to be little risk of persecution. But, as a result the majority of appeals from people coming from countries with strong evidence of persecution but with doubts raised over their individual story are still refused e.g. Turkey, Sri Lanka, Croatia and Sudan. Here the cynicism of Presenting Officers about asylum-seekers claims is contrasted with the sympathy of adjudicators who are unable to allow more than a small number of appeals in the face of criticisms of the 'refusal culture' by the IAS and the Refugee Legal centre. The reduction of the question of asylum and immigration policy to the administrative problem of the appeals backlog, and the lack of public and political interest in the issue is carefully charted. Finally, Travers delivers his verdict that political rhetoric has failed to deliver effective control and will continue to do so in the future. This valuable and provocative book both deserves and repays careful attention.

Ian Law
University of Leeds

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2000