The Law Society's immigration law committee has cautiously welcomed the announcement that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) is to be abolished and brought back within the Home Office under the direct control of ministers.
In an unscheduled House of Commons statement yesterday, home secretary Theresa May told MPs that the agency had been a 'troubled organisation' for so long that it would take many years to clear the backlog of more than 310,000 cases. Its four main problems were its size, lack of transparency, IT systems, and its policy and legal framework, she said.
She is to split the agency into two parts - an immigration and visa service and a law enforcement service - having already a year ago split off the UK border force from the UKBA when it emerged that passport controls were being relaxed at times of peak demand in airports.
Chris Cole, chair of the Law Society's immigration law committee, said: 'We are pleased that the home secretary has acknowledged the failures of the UKBA, but this is no reason to go back to how things used to be - they were not the halcyon days when everything always went right.
'This is an opportunity for a proper restructuring of the system. We don't want to see government rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.
'If she is genuinely serious about changing the system, this is the time to create a separate and independent body dealing with asylum assessment, as they do in Canada, Sweden and elsewhere. Asylum assessment is a quasi-judicial function and quite different from the UKBA's other responsibilities.'
May's announcement that she was abolishing the UKBA prompted chair of the Commons home affairs select committee Keith Vaz, a long-standing critic of the UKBA, to congratulate her on 'delivering the lethal injection' and 'putting (it) out of its misery'.
His comment follows a report from the committee that accused former UKBA head Lin Homer of a 'catastrophic leadership failure' during her period in office from 2008-2011.
Vaz said that it would take 24 years at the current rate to clear the backlog, adding: 'It appears more like a Whitehall farce than a government agency operating in the 21st century.'