Detained Fast Track Litigation Case Study: Using the Law for Social Change

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Research published today by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research examines Detention Action’s successful strategic litigation against the Detained Fast Track (DFT). In a lengthy series of legal actions, Detention Action challenged the DFT, the process where asylum seekers were routinely held in detention while their claims were processed under accelerated timescales. In November 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the Court of Appeal’s finding that the DFT was “systematically unfair”. The DFT has been suspended for more than two years.

The Detention Action team celebrate the ruling in the High Court that the government’s operation of the Detained Fast Track is unlawful, July 2014.

This case study explores the process surrounding the litigation, rather than the legal challenge itself, unpicking the factors which led to it being successful. The case study places the litigation in the context of a broader advocacy strategy for detention reform and highlights the importance of building relationships, of direct experience working with people affected by the DFT, of a supportive management committee and a protective costs order. By examining what worked in this particular case, as well as the risks and challenges along the way, it is hoped that this research can make a useful contribution to a growing conversation on strategic litigation as a tool to achieve social change.

The Detention Action case study sits alongside another report by Dr Vanhala of UCL, examining Just for Kids Law’s intervention in R v Tigere in the Supreme Court. This case concerned the denial of student loans to lawfully resident young people who were not British citizens.

In this reflection piece, Shauneen Lambe from Just for Kids Law sets out the key findings from both case studies and invites NGOs and lawyers in the UK to think about how the law can be used to bring about social change.