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22.05.06: Judgment exposes Home Office Illegality in the detention of torture victims

High Court highlights long standing failure by the Home Office to comply with legal requirements to protect torture victims from being detained at Oakington Immigration Detention Centre.

On 22 May 2006 The High Court gave judgment in a case which highlighted a “persistent and sustained failure” by the Home Office to abide by the legal requirement to ensure that detainees in immigration detention centres are medically examined within 24 hours of their detention. This failure led to the unlawful detention of two asylum seekers at Oakington Removal Centre in May 2005, who should have been assessed as unsuitable for detention as there was medical evidence that they had been tortured in their countries of origin.

Ms D, from the Ivory Coast, had been imprisoned there for four days and subject to severe beatings also suffering a miscarriage. She had extensive scarring on her back as a result of this treatment. Mr K, from Turkey, was detained and beaten by the authorities there, on one occasion having hot irons applied to his neck again resulting in obvious scarring.

Although the Home Office have a policy that evidence of a history of torture should weigh strongly against a decision to detain both Ms D and Mr K were detained on arrival in the UK and sent to Oakington Removal Centre so their claims could be “fast-tracked”. Home Office policy is that only straightforward cases should be treated in this way, not cases where there is evidence of torture. Ms D and Mr K were not detained because of any concerns they would abscond, but solely to process their claims quickly.

This case highlighted the fact that although Parliament introduced the legal requirement in 2001 to provide for medical examinations in immigration detention centres within 24 hours, it has from the outset been ignored at Oakington. Further, the private contractor paid to provide healthcare at the centre, Forensic Medical Services Limited, had a policy that even when detainees were examined, no opinion as to whether they may have been tortured would be communicated to the Home Office. The judge commented that this policy operated to “subvert” one of the key purposes of the medical examination, which is to ensure that torture victims are not improperly detained.

At an earlier hearing on 8 December 2005, in light of the failure by the Home Office to do anything to ensure that the law was being followed notwithstanding this case being issued at court in June 2005, Mr Justice Collins ordered that until the final hearing the Home Office was required to ensure that the 24 hour medical examinations took place.

When they were detained neither Ms D or Mr K were medically examined within 24 hours and when they were inadequate information was communicated to the Home Office. In the event they were only released when their legal representatives, the Refugee Legal Centre, obtained appointments for them to be examined by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. Mr Justice Davis concluded that the failure to comply with the law led to Ms D being wrongfully detained for 2 days, and Mr K for 4, and issued declarations confirming that the Home Office, and the company contracted to manage Oakington, GSL UK Limited, had acted unlawfully in failing to comply with the law.

Bhatt Murphy Solicitors who acted for the Claimants said:

“This case is extremely concerning for a number of reasons. It seems extraordinary that until this case was brought that the Home Office was content for the law to be flouted at Oakington. The government rightly accept that torture survivors should not be detained unnecessarily. It is obviously wrong to put them through the additional trauma of detention, and they often have medical problems that also make detention inappropriate. The government on the one hand have told Parliament that one of the purposes of the 24 hour examination is to ensure that torture survivors are not wrongly detained, and on the other have told the court in this case that it is not necessary. Mr Justice Davis was right to say that this case “served publicly to highlight a persistent and sustained failure to give effect to important aspects of the Detention Centre Rules and publicly to highlight a departure from published policy””.

For further information contact Hamish Arnott or Mark Scott on 020 7729 1115.