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Immigration appeal decisions no longer published, senate told

Independent senator Kiernan Bell (File photograph)

The Government has abandoned publishing key decisions made by the Immigration Appeals Tribunal, including rulings that were ready for publication as far back as 2016, the Senate has heard.

The details emerged in the Upper House in response to Budget debate questions by Kiernan Bell, an independent senator.

Ms Bell, a former chairwoman of the independent tribunal, told the Senate on Wednesday: “There is public interest in the publication of these types of decision – this promotes transparency, accountability and consistency in the legal system.

“By making the decisions publicly available, parties involved in similar cases can gain insight into the reasoning and outcomes of previous cases, which helps them to make more informed decisions.”

She said releasing the IAT’s decisions had not been done since 2015 – even though its 2016 and 2017 work had been prepared for publication.

“Public availability of decisions like this promotes open justice, which helps build public trust in the legal system, the tribunal itself, and ensures that justice is seen to be done.”

Under legislation approved in 2011, the independent tribunal was formed to make the final decisions on grievances relating to issues such as Bermuda status, permanent residency and work permits.

Previously, the last word on immigration cases lay with Cabinet.

The tribunal’s start of work was delayed 18 months by the failure to draw up its governing regulations, which were not gazetted until March 2013, when it started hearing cases.

The tribunal’s most far-reaching decision that went public was a ruling clearing the way for eligible holders of Permanent Residents’ Certificates to apply for Bermuda status.

Ian Kawaley, then the Chief Justice, dismissed an appeal against the IAT decision by the Ministry of Home Affairs – in a May 2014 ruling that led to a political furore over what was branded a PRC “loophole” in the island’s immigration laws.

Mr Justice Kawaley’s ruling came out under the One Bermuda Alliance administration, which faced repeated protests related to immigration – from the dropping of term limits on work permits to allowing condominium sales to PRCs, and culminating in mass protests in 2016 over its ‘Pathways to Status’ proposal.

But the Department of Immigration ultimately went ahead with processing the status applications under the new precedent in August 2014.

Ms Bell’s questions on the IAT last week were fielded by Leslie Robinson, the Junior Minister of Economy and Labour and Public Works – who said the tribunal “has not met for some time because of a restructure”.

She said Jason Hayward, the economy and labour minister, “handles all appeals at this time”.

But Ms Robinson added: “He has recently appointed a new board who will then assist the minister with special projects.”

Asked for clarification, Ms Robinson said the tribunal was “not disbanded – Covid came about and there were no meetings for two years”.

“It has now just been put together with the new appointments.”

Mr Hayward took over responsibility for the Department of Immigration in the Cabinet shuffle called by David Burt in July 2020.

The department was previously under the purview of the Ministry of National Security.

Turning to the release of IAT decisions for public scrutiny, Ms Robinson told the Senate: “They have not been published because this has not been part of this ministry’s mandate since taking over the management of the Department of Immigration.”

There was no indication of when the tribunal’s decisions would be made public.

Ms Bell responded: “It’s an answer – it’s obviously not a satisfactory answer.”

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Published March 27, 2023 at 7:45 am (Updated March 27, 2023 at 8:28 am)

Immigration appeal decisions no longer published, senate told

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