Press Release: GOVERNMENT ORDERED TO RESPOND TO CHALLENGE ON ACCESS TO LAWYERS IN HEATHROW DETENTION CENTRES
GOVERNMENT ORDERED TO RESPOND TO DETENTION ACTION CHALLENGE REQUIRING ACCESS TO LAWYERS IS URGENTLY RESTORED IN HEATHROW DETENTION CENTRES
On Tuesday 3rd February, Supperstone J in the High Court issued an Order requiring the Home Secretary to file a written response to the application for interim relief by 4pm on Thursday 6 February 2020.
The phone outage coincided with the crucial period leading up to removal charter flights that went ahead on 29 January to Nigeria and Ghana and on 30 January to France.
As the outage continues, a third charter flight to Jamaica has been scheduled for 11 February, despite concerns over the ability of those affected to seek legal advice in relation to their intended removal. If it goes ahead, this will be only the second charter to Jamaica since the Windrush scandal broke in 2017.
The legal challenge concerns weeks of disruption to Lycamobile signal in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook IRCs, the closest detention centres to Heathrow Airport that act as the staging post for many removals from the UK. Phone signal has been severely disrupted since early January 2020 due to a fault with an O2 mobile phone mast in the area.
Mobile phones provided by the Home Office at the outset of detention are the principal means by which those held in IRCs are able to access legal assistance, contact their solicitors and families, and access support services.
The challenge argues that the Home Office’s failure to provide an adequate means of communication breaches both Home Office policy (see note 3 below) and the common law right of access to legal advice and the courts. It seeks to compel the Home Office to immediately provide SIM cards for alternative providers in order to ensure that no one will be removed from the UK without being afforded effective access to legal advice and assistance.
During the ongoing outage period, Detention Action’s casework service has experienced a sharp drop-off in enquiries from people held in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook IRCs and has been unable to contact 30 clients. Where contact has been possible, Detention Action’s clients have described major problems in being able to contact their legal representatives.
Those held in immigration detention often have an acute and urgent need for legal advice and assistance, for example to challenge their detention or to assess the merits of challenging an order for their removal to the country in which they claim to be at risk of persecution. Their right to effective access to legal advice and assistance is a fundamental constitutional right, guaranteed at common law.
Bella Sankey, Director of Detention Action, said: “If you’re locked up in a detention centre and face being sent back to a country where your life is in danger, phone signal is a lifeline not a luxury. Your phone is your connection to the outside world, and the only means to defend yourself against a wrongful removal.
“The remedy for this situation is simple, and the Home Office must ensure that anyone it intends to remove from the UK has access to adequate legal support.”
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, said: “This technological failure is having very human consequences and the Home Office must start taking notice.
“People are being locked up in immigration detention centres, families are being ripped apart, and people who thought the UK was their home are facing removal on 11 February to a country they do not know. All without proper access to a lawyer, a most basic element of British justice.
“The devastating effects of the Windrush scandal should be very much in the forefront of the Home Secretary’s mind as she considers this important legal challenge and the upcoming charter flight to Jamaica scheduled by her department amid serious problems with access to justice.”
– DSO 05/2018: All detainees must be provided with a mobile phone (unless they have a personal mobile phone with no camera or internet connectivity, in which case they must be allowed to keep their own basic phone).