THE Home Office has been forced to back down from almost 13,000 immigration appeals in the past five years, according to figures obtained by The National through Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation.

The vast majority of these were lodged from within the UK.

The release of the figures marks a significant stage in The National’s long-running battle with the Home Office, and only came to light after the Information Commissioner warned the department could face legal action for not responding to our original FOI request within the required timescale.

Last November we asked a series of questions relating to the number of appeals made against visa decisions since 2012; the number that had been upheld and rejected; and the number from which the Home Office withdrew before a hearing.

In its response, the Home Office referred us to the website of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS): “Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act exempts the Home Office from having to provide you with this information, because it is already reasonably accessible to you.

"If you have any difficulties in accessing this information at the source which I have indicated, please contact me again.”

The tables we were given showed that between April 2012 and September 2016 the Home Office withdrew from 12,248 appeal cases made from inside the UK before they reached conclusion. Between April 2015 and September 2016, it withdrew from 372 cases lodged outside the UK.

The National was told the Home Office did not hold information on such cases prior to April 2015, and to provide it would exceed the £600 limit for individual FOI requests.

The majority of withdrawals came at the First Tier Hearing stage. The figure for in-country appeals was 2643 in 2012/13, and peaked at 4553 the following year before dropping to 373 cases last year. Most withdrawals from cases lodged from outside the UK were also made at the First Tier stage – 261 last year and 80 up to the end of last September.

We also asked how many judicial reviews had been lodged against visa decisions since April 2012; how many were upheld and rejected; and from how many the Home Office withdrew before they were heard.

In relation to the initial questions regarding judicial reviews, it has taken the Home Office almost nine months to reply that “we are unable to answer these questions” and point us in the direction of the Government Legal Department.

Amidst the hundreds of pages of documents to which the Home Office referred us was a quarterly summary to March this year which showed that cases heard in the First Tier Tribunal Immigration and Asylum Chamber (FTTIAC) accounted for nine per cent of the HMCTS workload – behind social security and child support (51 per cent) and employment tribunals (23 per cent).

The number of cases taken to the FTTIAC in the first quarter of this year was down by a third on the same period last year to 11,603, which continued the decline that followed the introduction of the Immigration Act 2014.

Case disposals in the same period have risen by 38 per cent – from 13,585 to 18,751, with the outstanding caseload also dropping by 15 per cent.

The document also showed that in January to March this year, 3074 immigration and asylum cases were referred to the Upper Tribunal for judicial review, down 13 per cent on last year.

Ian Blackford, the SNP's leader at Westminster, said: "These figures reveal that the Home Office know fine well that they have been penalising thousands of those who more than likely always had a legitimate right to stay in the UK.

"The decision to withdraw from almost 13,000 appeals hides a vast cost to individuals as well as the public purse but moreover leads to substantial trauma, pain and hurt for thousands who are left without full rights while these elongated processes take place.

"Our immigration system should be based on rights but underpinning those should be dignity and compassion. These principles seem to be sadly lacking. We know of many cases where Scots have been caught up in such trauma, it absolutely brings home to me that to have an immigration policy that is fit for purpose, control over our immigration needs must be passed to the Scottish Government."