A shortage of lawyers for refugee appeals has reached "near crisis levels", says a government review board.
The Refugee Status Appeals Authority says in its 2008 annual report that there are now only three or four lawyers who regularly represent people appealing against decisions by the Immigration Department.
In the report, chairman Allan Mackey says it has become uneconomic, even for enthusiastic young lawyers, to join the field of refugee appeals.
Mr Mackey says a "public defender office" should be set up to ensure there is somebody to do the work in future. He says this should be a high priority when the Government establishes its proposed Immigration and Protection Tribunal.
But lawyers specialising in immigration matters are sceptical that a public defender office would overcome a severe shortage of lawyers in refugee appeals.
Lawyer David Ryken says the current model of the independent legal professional is more likely to provide quality work. Mr Ryken says the main reasons for the shortage is the low rates of payment and the heavy bureaucracy of the legal aid system.
The authority's report shows that, of 200 decisions taken by the authority during the past year, almost half related to just four countries - Iran, Sri Lanka, China and Bangladesh.