The High Court has ruled that a lack of access to UK immigration lawyers for immigrant detainees is unlawful. The ruling comes after it was revealed that a man was denied access to an immigration lawyer for nine months and had to represent himself. The landmark ruling was handed down by Mr Justice Swift.
The man denied access to an immigration lawyer had challenged the Legal Aid provisions for immigrant detainees held in prisons on the basis that they are ‘less favourable than those in place for people held in immigration removal centres.’
Under current UK laws, non-UK nationals imprisoned for 12 months or more are likely to be deported, while UK immigration powers allow for detainment at the end of a custodial sentence, pending a person’s removal from the UK.
Immigration removal centre
In these circumstances, such individuals are often transferred to a UK immigration removal centre, where conditions are less restrictive and access to legal advice is easier. However, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Home Office is holding fewer people in removal centres and instead putting them in prisons.
Recent data shows that the number of people detained in prisons under UK immigration powers at the end of 2020 amounted to 519, representing a 45% increase compared with 2019.
Immigrants held in removal centres have access to an advice surgery, which guarantees a minimum of 30 minutes’ advice from an immigration lawyer, regardless of means or merit. People detained in prison under UK immigration powers are not afforded the same rights.
Mr Justice Swift ruled that the Lord Chancellor had violated the rights of the male claimant challenging his lack of access to a lawyer, stating that the Chancellor had ‘breached the claimant’s right not to be discriminated against under human rights law.’
In making his ruling, Justice Swift said: “The failure to afford immigration detainees held in prisons access to publicly-funded legal advice to an extent equivalent to that available to immigration detainees held in immigration removal centres, is in breach of convention rights.”
Disadvantaged when accessing justice
Piere Makhlouf, the assistant director for Bail for Immigration Detainees, the charity that intervened in the case, said that immigrants held in prisons are ‘consistently disadvantaged when accessing justice’.
“Immigration detainees in prisons often face deportation and permanent separation from their families, children and the communities where they have grown up, causing real suffering to many. Access to legal advice and representation in these circumstances is essential to assist people to put forward their claims to remain in the UK, and indeed so that they can apply for bail to be released from detention,” he added.
The High Court ruling comes just months after Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, described legal professionals defending the rights of immigrants as ‘activists’ and ‘lefty lawyers’.
More recently, the Lord Chancellor, and Secretary of State for Justice, the Right Honourable Robert Buckland QC, blasted UK immigration lawyers who ‘deliberately delay’ immigration cases by filing last-minute human rights claims.
Mr Buckland accused immigration lawyers of ‘taking the British public for a ride’ with their last-minute delaying tactics.
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