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Judge orders asylum seeker with baby rehoused, describes government attitude as “chilling”


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Immigration lawyers develop thick skins. It’s easy to see why – a quick scan of the political landscape tells you what we have to deal with day in, day out! Nevertheless, there are some still cases where the Home Office’s arguments are so outrageous, it really makes your blood boil.

QH v Secretary for the Home Department [2020] EWHC 2691 (Admin) is one such case. The fact that the judge calls the Home Office’s submission “chilling” probably tells you all you need to know.

Confirmed victim of human trafficking

QH was a recognised victim of trafficking who said she had been raped, forced into prostitution and trafficked across Europe, all from the ages of 15 to 22. She had attempted suicide and the medical evidence described her depression as “severe”. In late September 2020, she gave birth to a baby girl.

As is typical with asylum seekers like QH, she was provided by the Home Office with temporary “NASS accommodation”. QH’s lawyers raised concerns about the suitability of the accommodation “bearing in mind that she was soon to be a mother with a young baby”. On the day she was due to be released from hospital after giving birth, the Home Office confirmed she would be taken to new accommodation where she would have a “large double room with shared facilities”.

Insect-ridden accommodation

The room which QH had been promised was allocated to someone else and she was instead forced into a dingy and disgusting room which was completely unsuitable. Her lawyers brought judicial review proceedings urgently seeking suitable accommodation, pointing out that

there is no storage in the room; that belongings have to be kept on the frame of a bed above which is the boiler; that the claimant and her baby are sleeping on a mattress on the floor because of the proximity between the boiler and the bunk bed; that there are insects that can be seen near the boiler and that the new born baby already has an insect bite on her lip; she says the problems with the room have not been addressed notwithstanding every opportunity by the accommodation providers; she emphasises that the heating is set only to come on for one hour; that the claimant in her evidence says she is not able to wash her child; that she cannot register, and therefore access, GP and health visitor services. 

The Home Office did not back down. It said that the room was “sufficiently appropriate at this stage” and that there was no obligation to provide “the best possible accommodation”. It also said that the issues with the room could be addressed including the removal of the clutter and the room being re-arranged. That didn’t fly with Mr Justice Fordham who queried why, if the room could be made suitable, that hadn’t happened before QH and her child were put into it.

A “chilling” argument

The Home Office’s fallback position was that the court shouldn’t make an order for a “suitable single occupancy accommodation” since there were “numerous people in a far worse position”. This was the submission which Fordham J described as “chilling”.

Mercifully, he had no hesitation in finding in QH’s favour in the urgent application for accommodation and awarding costs against the Home Office:

I cannot… accept the logic of the position which tells the Court that interim relief cannot be granted in the context of accommodation without that visibility and in circumstances where there could be a knock-on effect for others. Were that sufficient it would dictate the outcome adversely to any claimant in the context of interim relief and emergency accommodation… I cannot on the face of it accept the assertion that there are ‘numerous’ people ‘in a far worse position’ than the claimant and who cannot be accommodated and ‘will be disadvantaged’ by this Order for interim relief. Ultimately, I have to focus on the case that is before me. 

There are many other vulnerable asylum seekers who are not lucky enough to have the backing of decent lawyers and are still putting up with squalid accommodation. This is a prime example of why us “lefty lawyers’ and ‘do-gooders” keep fighting the good fight. 

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

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Bilaal Shabbir

Bilaal Shabbir

Bilaal is an Advocate at the Scottish Bar and practises in both Scotland and Jersey, focusing on public law, commercial dispute resolution and offshore trust litigation. He is a Panel Member on the Football Association’s (FA) National Serious Case Panel.