Geographies of Immigration Law: Space, Technology and Access to Justice

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


There are significant spatial variations in how immigration law is applied both across Europe and within European countries. At the European level, fundamental differences exist between states both in the formal procedures used to determine refugee claims and the way that laws are implemented in practice (Gill & Good 2018). In countries such as Britain, immigration courts differ markedly according to the rate of success of appellants, the availability of legal representation, and the cultures within courts (Gill et al 2018; Burridge & Gill 2017). These differences mean that refugee determination is at least partly a matter of luck rather than justice, with potentially dire consequences for the unlucky ones.
National and European laws conceal these differences because they conceive of, and promulgate, abstract understandings of legal jurisdictions as internally coherent and spatially homogeneous. For example, the Common European Asylum System (CEAS)- the main piece of legislation at the European level that governs refugee claim determination - holds that there is no legally relevant difference between having your claim for asylum determined in Greece, Bulgaria, Sweden or France, despite the differences in success rates, legal procedures and socio-economic circumstances between these countries (Gill & Good 2018).

Legal geography is a rapidly developing interdisciplinary field, which produces 'work of practical policy relevance as well as speaking truth to power' (Bartel et al 2013:349). To date, however, a systematic legal geographical analysis of immigration law has not been carried out. This research project seeks to fill this gap, asking:
1. How is space imagined in UK and EU immigration law?
2. To what extent, and how, does immigration law and practice vary across space in the UK and in the EU?
3. What are the causes and consequences for appellants of these variations: in particular in relation to access to justice?

Methodology entails ethnography and interviews. Two case studies will be adopted to explore the relationship between immigration law and space: British and Bulgarian asylum determination systems. The British Courts and Tribunals Service is undergoing a globally unprecedented modernisation. A central element of this modernisation is the introduction of digital technology in supporting legal processes. Yet despite this increasing use of video-link technology in the UK justice system, Gibbs (2017:4) highlights a 'dearth of research' into its impact. Ethnographic observations of physical and virtual hearings, alongside interviews with legal practitioners and appellants throughout the UK, will uncover the consequences of this profound mutation in the lawscape of British tribunals for asylum law.

At the European level, the CEAS was heavily modified in 2015 at the height of the so-called 'refugee crisis'. One source of innovations concerns the so-called 'Dublin' agreement, which allows for the legal deportation of asylum claimants to Europe's fringes, on the basis that legal procedures are comparable anywhere across Europe. While most fringe countries do not allow the public access to asylum appeals, Bulgaria stands out in allowing the public to observe its appeal system. An ethnography of the Bulgarian asylum appeal system in comparison to the British system will allow the candidate to explore the extent to which the quality of legal procedure is independent of its location across Europe.

To facilitate the Bulgarian fieldwork the Jo will spend a period of time - we expect four months - in Bulgaria regularly observing asylum appeals from the public area of the court. She will require overseas expenses to complete this section of the research, as well as training in Bulgarian.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2073529 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2018 19/12/2022 Jo Hynes
Description The research explores questions of digital justice in the immigration bail context. The work is ongoing, but provisional findings relate to participant engagement, as well as the legal geographies and experiences of time in remote and in-person hearings.
Exploitation Route Digital justice is a rapidly developing field, accelerated further by the demands of the pandemic. The work will be useful to stakeholders designing and engaging with digital court reforms.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice

Description - Public Law Project: Online Immigration Appeals: A Case Study of the First-tier Tribunal. August 2020. Two Law Gazette articles; circulated widely including by ILPA. Reported by Transform Justice as one of a limited number of pieces of research on digital justice. - Research to inform witness statement in a successful case, JCWI v President of the UTIAC, challenging the use of paper determinations as opposed to oral hearings. - Public Law Project: Judicial Review during COVID-19. April 2020, cited in 2nd edition of Symes and Jorro on immigration appeals/JRs.
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Research Fellowship with Public Law Project 
Organisation Public Law Project (PLP)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Research fellowship in online courts. Multiple joint publications.
Collaborator Contribution Providing a platform for research and developing networks in the digital justice sphere.
Impact • Research report: Judicial Review during COVID-19. April 2020. Published on SSRN & on PLP website. • Research report (first author): Online Immigration Appeals: A Case Study of the First-tier Tribunal. August 2020. Published on PLP website. • Both research reports are in the process of being published in academic journals - Public Law and Journal of Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law, respectively. • Authored four blog pieces for immigration law specific outlets: o Free Movement blog piece, 27/03/20: Remote hearings in the immigration tribunal: what could possibly go wrong? o Free Movement blog piece, 01/07/20: Research interviews reveal crippling impact of new legal aid rules o Admin Law Blog, May 2020: Judicial Review during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Part I) & (Part ll). o Law Society Gazette, 26/08/20: PLP research reveals challenges of online immigration appeals.
Start Year 2020