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There was an interesting article in The Telegraph last Saturday about immigration appeal hearings that go ahead with no Home Office Presenting Officer (HOPO or PO) present to defend the Home Office or Entry Clearance Officer position. I’m not quite sure from where the headline came, though, as there are very, very few cases that involve failed asylum seekers in the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. Usually one only has only one bite of the cherry, unless a fresh claim is successfully made. I may shortly do an advice page on fresh claims, now that I think of it.
In addition, the Home Office is known to try to prioritise asylum cases in allocating POs to hearings. I personally cannot remember the last time I did an asylum case with no PO present, whereas it is far from unusual at the moment to do an immigration case with no PO. They do seem to be particularly short staffed at the moment.
In immigration cases, I usually prefer there to be a PO present in court. My fear is that the immigration judge will feel he or she has to do the cross examination him or herself, which almost inevitably leads the judge ‘into the arena’, as we say. Personally participating in the proceedings inadvertently causes the judge to start seeing those proceedings from the perspective of a party. It is one thing to hear a witness fudge someone else’s imperfectly asked question; it is quite another when the bugger dodges one’s own brilliantly composed query.
Even in immigration cases I am sometimes relieved when there is no PO. POs are generally more coherent and logical than the half-wits who write most explanatory statements and asylum reasons for refusal letters. It is easy to deal with and dismiss an undefended and apparently indefensible, illogical, incomprehensible and inarticulate decision letter, but if a PO is present they will generally make a better stab at putting together some slightly more sensible reasons why the appeal should be dismissed.
Generally, I say. Some POs can be a blessing. Some are very reasonable and will either actually or effectively withdraw the nonsensical bits of a decision. Some are so aggressive and overbearing they garner much needed sympathy for the client.