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High Court demands proper inquiry into immigration detention abuse


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A proposed inquiry into the now infamous abuse of migrants at Brook House detention centre does not go far enough, a High Court judge has ruled.

In a judgment handed down today, Mrs Justice May held that an underpowered Prisons and Probation Ombudsman investigation was not sufficient under human rights law. The case is MA & BB v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2019] EWHC 1523 (Admin).

According to Duncan Lewis, which along with Deighton Pierce Glynn is representing two former detainees, May J found that the ombudsman “needed statutory powers to compel witnesses, particularly the officers responsible for the mistreatment and abuse, in order for the investigation to comply with Article 3” of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The judge also expressed concerns about whether “private hearings could secure sufficient accountability, allay suspicions of state tolerance of mistreatment of the weak, and ultimately maintain confidence in the rule of law”. The judgment goes on:

69. (iii) A detention centre, with its population of vulnerable persons, is a place where erosion of the rule of law may be thought to be both particularly likely and (because of that) particularly dangerous… detainees are frequently subject to hostile political and media rhetoric; the public at large do not in general care about welfare in detention.  In those circumstances it may be thought to be of especial importance that detainees’ rights should be publicly vindicated and the rule of law thus publicly upheld.

May J concluded that, as well as the power to compel witnesses, the ombudsman should be able to order public hearings and to fund legal representation for MA and BB.

Solicitor Lewis Kett of Duncan Lewis said that “today’s judgment ensures that those officers can be held to account for their actions and that the PPO will be better equipped to get to the heart of why this happened and how to ensure it is never repeated”.

Duncan Lewis says that a compliant investigation would most likely have to be a statutory public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, which would be the first of its kind involving immigration detention.

A 2017 investigation by the BBC’s Panorama programme showed detainees suffering severe violence, taunting, and mistreatment, uncovering a toxic staff culture.

Last year a separate report, commissioned by Brook House operator G4S, called on the Home Office to take “greater responsibility” for conditions at the centre. The authors, from an independent consultancy, said that Brook House was “unsuitable to hold any detainee for more than a few weeks”.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.