Reprieve for students as judge says London Met can seek judicial review (UK)

By John Morgan

A High Court ruling means London Metropolitan University’s overseas students will be allowed to continue with their studies, while the university has been granted permission to apply for judicial review against the UK Border Agency’s decision to revoke its visa licence. The decision made today granting “interim relief” means current overseas students at the institution – and those accepted to start this autumn – will be allowed to remain at the university to continue with their studies, provided they have proper immigration status.

London Met students who wish to transfer to other institutions will also be allowed to continue with their studies, with the same caveat on immigration status. However, the university will still be without its highly trusted sponsor status while the judicial review is heard, meaning it will not be able to recruit more non-EU students.  Mr Justice Irwin had opened the hearing by referring to London Met students whose immigration status is in order, suggesting they were at the heart of the matter. “I would be interested, in respect of those students, to know why a concession can’t be made,” he told the court.

Richard Gordon QC, for London Met, said the university and the Home Office had “two major areas of dispute”. One was whether the UKBA’s decision had been lawful and the other was whether “requirements of fairness” applied, meaning London Met should have been informed prior to the revocation notice and allowed to make representations.

It comes after the university took legal action against the UKBA, which claimed in a report that there were “systemic” problems at the institution with tracking international students. London Met argued that the UKBA’s decision “was taken pursuant to guidance that was not laid before Parliament and which is referred to nowhere in the immigration rules”.

A previous case had established that “provisions of this kind are only lawful if they have been laid before Parliament”, he said. Mr Gordon told the court: “The UKBA can’t say it was an emergency, nor can the UKBA say there was not a requirement of fairness to allow the making of informed representations.” He added: “It is not easy to see how, when the UKBA can’t point to any [current] student who is in breach of immigration control requirements, how – with a decision that affects huge numbers of innocent students – the threat to immigration control has justified so draconian a decision as revocation or indeed suspension.”

Lisa Giovannetti QC, for the Home Office, told the court: “Fairness does not require London Met should be formally notified of things spelled out to put things right prior to revocation.” She added that the university had attempted to put things right during long-running talks with the UKBA that preceded revocation, “but hadn’t been able to”. London Met had declined the opportunity to extend the suspension period and instead asked for a “speedy resolution”, Ms Giovannetti said.

Although the university said it did not presently have any students studying without leave to remain, there were numerous such students at the university over the previous six-month period, she argued. The National Union of Students was represented at the hearing as a third party, arguing that interim relief should be granted given the effect on students otherwise would be “immediate and irreversible”.

Source: Times Higher Education