Fears refugees will be denied justice under 'exorbitant' hike of court fees for migration cases

The cost to take migration cases before the Federal Circuit Court has been increased fourfold, leaving legal and human rights groups concerned.

Protesters gather to support asylum seekers detained at the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel.

Protesters gather to support asylum seekers detained at the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel. Source: AAP

There are fears a more than fourfold increase in the cost of bringing a migration case before the Federal Circuit Court (FCC) will undermine refugees and asylum seekers' access to justice.

The Law Council of Australia (LCA) and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) have condemned a decision by the federal government to hike migration case fees from $690 to $3,330.  

The FCC can review migration decisions made by the immigration minister, the Immigration Assessment Authority and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

ASRC solicitor Carolyn Graydon said the FCC price increase risked denying due legal process to people seeking asylum and on those temporary visas looking to appeal decisions.

“It is a serious incursion on access to justice for vulnerable people - including people seeking asylum," she told SBS News.

“We’re talking about individuals who are fearing persecution and who are entitled - every single one of them - to a fair process and access to justice."

The federal government has defended the price change, saying it is necessary to reinvest in the justice system amid an increasing caseload of applications.

The number of migration cases filed in the FCC grew from 3,544 in 2014-15 to 6,555 in 2019-20, according to government data.

“This change will help the court with this workload, and allow migration applicants to have their matters resolved faster,” a spokesperson for Attorney-General Christian Porter said.

The new funding will allow the court to have an additional four judges, seven judicial registrars, more support for staff and increased base funding, they said.

The government says it will also enable the resolution of about 1,000 more migration cases per year and a full exemption fee will be maintained for applicants experiencing financial hardship.

“A new partial fee exemption set at half the full rate has also been introduced,” Mr Porter's spokesperson said.

However, Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright said it was “unconscionable” for the government to be imposing such an “exorbitant" price rise.

This kind of increase is a very significant impost on people seeking visas in Australia,” she told SBS News.

She said increasing fees is not the way to deal with the backlog of cases before the court. 

"It is absolutely the wrong way to handle this situation because what it is going to mean is that people can’t afford to make applications through the court," she said.  

"If they do manage to scrape that money together it will mean that that money is no long available for them to use for legal representation."

The LCA also said it considers the $1,826 application fee charged by the AAT's migration division for a hearing to be "unjustifiably high" in comparison to other divisions of the tribunal.

Mr Porter's spokesperson said the current FCC fee for migration matters was lower than that at the AAT.

“This change will adjust the Federal Circuit Court application fee so that it is set at the midpoint between the fee set by the AAT and the higher fee set by the Federal Court,” the spokesperson said. 

Ms Graydon said allowing fair access to the FCC was crucial in upholding vulnerable people's right to appeal decisions made against them.

"The hike will further discriminate against many people seeking asylum and those on temporary visas," she said. 

Published 19 November 2020 at 3:09pm
By Tom Stayner