High Court finds operation of Detained Fast Track asylum system unlawful

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Detention Action staff and supporters (young and old) celebrate today’s judgment on the steps of the High Court

Last year, we mounted a legal challenge against the policy and practice of the Home Office’s Detained Fast Track (DFT) system. We argued it was a fundamentally unfair and flawed process, which created a real risk that many asylum seekers with strong claims for protection are being sent back to face persecution or human rights violations.

Today, we are extremely pleased to announce that, in a landmark ruling, the High Court has found that the way the government operates the Detained Fast Track asylum system is unlawful.

You can read the full judgement and a summary briefing here.

Giving judgement, Mr Justice Ouseley found that “the DFT as operated carries an unacceptably high risk of unfairness.”

Among the numerous deficiencies he outlined in the current Fast Track system, Mr Justice Ouseley found it ‘indefensible’ that asylum-seekers are locked up for an average of a week before they can see a lawyer, when nothing is happening on their cases.

The court also criticised the inadequate screening of asylum-seekers’ suitability for the DFT. It found that failings at various stages of the process meant that survivors of torture, victims of trafficking and other vulnerable people unsuitable for the DFT, were not being adequately identified.

Speaking following the judgement, our Director Jerome Phelps said:

“We are delighted that the High Court has recognised that asylum-seekers are being detained in an unlawful process.  It is unfortunate that the government has spent years ignoring such warnings from UN and independent monitoring bodies.  This is good news for people in detention facing return to torture, but it is also good news for British justice.”

Ivo Kuka, a survivor of torture from Cameroon, who was refused asylum on the Detained Fast Track before eventually being recognised as a refugee, said:

“I had less than 24 hours to provide evidence. They were sending me back with a death warrant. I was lucky and I campaigned hard and now I am a refugee. Many more have not been lucky. And justice should not depend on luck. I hope this judgement is the beginning of the end of putting vulnerable people through this unfair process. ”

Reflecting on his own experiences in the Detained Fast Track, Raj, a survivor of torture from Sri Lanka who was released from the Detained Fast Track last month, said:

“The whole DFT process overwhelmed me. The fear of returning to Sri Lanka gave me flashbacks of my torture. No one told me what was going on. It felt like they had decided not to believe me even before we started the interview. It was like a show-trial. They just wanted me out of the room, out of the country, as fast as possible.”

Sonal Ghelani of the Migrants Law Project, the solicitor who acted on behalf of Detention Action, said:

“Serious concerns regarding the operation of this process have been expressed, over a number of years, by respected organisations such as Detention Action and the UN High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR).  The government failed to heed those concerns necessitating legal action by a small charity. The Court has found that the DFT is an unlawful process.  The government should now listen to what Detention Action, other charities, lawyers and UNHCR have been saying and consider carefully whether a process of determining claims for protection that involves the expense of detaining people who pose no risk to anyone is necessary.”

There will be a separate hearing regarding the terms of the Order on 17 July 2014. We will be seeking the suspension of the process until deficiencies have been remedied.