Three leading UK immigration lawyers speak to The News on Sunday about why Nawaz Sharif’s stay extension request was refused by the Home Office, and the likely next steps
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s application for the extension of his stay in London has been turned down by the UK Home Office while his visa to the UK remains valid for around five years. The news of the rejection of Sharif’s visa extension spread like wildfire in Pakistani media after Geo News first broke the story. For a week now, the media have been occupied with this news.
A large number of political commentators and politicians have commented on why Nawaz Sharif’s visa was rejected and what the likely next steps are. Most of the commentary - based on political bias whether it is in favour of or against Sharif, or rooted in conspiracy theories - has come from those who have little to no knowledge of how the UK visa system works.
The News on Sunday spoke to three immigration lawyers who specialise in dealing with immigration cases at the Home Office and routinely deal with cases similar to Nawaz Sharif’s case.
Farhana Rathore, the principal solicitor of AS Excellence Solicitors in Milton Keynes, deals with a wide range of applications to enter and/ or remain in the United Kingdom.
She says that there are options for Nawaz Sharif to stay in the UK, for example, Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which provide a ‘right to life’ and protection against torture.
“In order to do this, Nawaz Sharif must provide evidence that there are substantial grounds for believing that he would face a real risk of being exposed to either a serious decline in his state of health resulting in intense suffering or a reduction in life expectancy as a result of either the absence of treatment or lack of access to such treatment. If his condition does not meet this criteria, then Article 3, medical aspect of the claim, must be refused,” she says.
When asked why Sharif’s extension application was refused, Rathore says, “Nawaz Sharif’s previous visit visa extensions were on the basis of medical grounds. Typically, you can keep extending for a total of 18 months. So, it would appear that the Home Office were no longer willing to keep extending Sharif’s visa on the same grounds. His application has been rejected with a full right to appeal. The appeal process can take between 9 and 20 months. Once all appeal rights have been exhausted, he could apply for a judicial review.”
Romana Kousar, an immigration solicitor based in East London, says that Articles 3 and 8 of the ECHR - in particular Article 3 - apply to individuals who are suffering from serious or life-threatening illness and receiving treatment in the UK.
“In medical claims, an applicant may rely on grounds that their return will amount to inhuman or degrading treatment. In general, it is possible that if Nawaz Sharif has previously been issued visa extensions twice on medical grounds, the Home Office may have found insufficient merit in the last application as visa extensions on medical grounds are usually issued for around 18 months (as general guidance) to enable the applicant to seek medical assistance in the UK,” she says.
Kousar says that the valid visa Nawaz Sharif holds was issued under the “visit visa category” and the refusal in question was based on an extension based on medical grounds.
Farhana Rathore says that there are options for Nawaz Sharif to stay in the UK, for example, Articles 3 and 8 of European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which provide a ‘right to life’ and protection against torture.
She adds that the chances and prospects of appealing to the Tribunal will depend on the circumstances put forward.
“It is likely that the Tribunal may grant the appeal based on the facts. A timescale of around 8 to 20 months can usually be expected for the appeal process to be completed, bearing in mind the ongoing backlog of appeals caused by the pandemic”, she says.
In a typical appeal process, she continues, the first stage would be to submit the notice of appeal for which a court hearing will be scheduled following court directions. In the event an appeal is dismissed in the First Tier Tribunal, there is an option of an application for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal based on an error of law.
“As an experienced immigration solicitor, I have dealt with a vast range of visa extensions based on human rights covering medical grounds. I have had recent successes for clients who are facing ill health and undergoing medical treatment in the UK alongside private and family life. Although there is a high threshold to meet under medical grounds each case is examined individually for prospects based on the circumstances,” says Kausar.
Barrister Rashid Ahmed has represented dozens of clients in high-profile immigration cases at the UK courts at various levels including several Pakistani politicians, businessmen from the former Russian states and Mike Tyson, the boxer. He reiterates that the Home Office decision doesn’t mean the end of legal options for Nawaz Sharif.
Barrister Ahmed says that Nawaz Sharif could continue to stay in the UK lawfully pending outcome of his appeal. He explains that if the appeal decision goes against Sharif, then he can still request leave outside the rules on the same medical grounds all over again using his status as a visitor under a valid UK visa.
He says that Nawaz Sharif has had a conviction to his name for more than 12 months but the fact that the Pakistani government facilitated Nawaz Sharif’s treatment in the UK in the first place and determined his health to be in danger goes in favour of Nawaz Sharif. If a stage comes where there is a trial, he says, Sharif’s lawyers will then have to argue extensively to develop their case for the continuing stay.
The writer is The News and Geo’s lead reporter for UK based in London. He tweets at: @MurtazaViews, email: email@example.com