Appeal judges have declared a Home Office policy that gave people 72 hours’ notice that they could face deportation without further warning unlawful.
The policy was temporarily suspended in March 2019 after Medical Justice, a charity set up to provide medical and legal advice to immigration detainees, was granted permission to challenge the policy. More than 40,000 migrants have been removed under the Removal Notice Window policy between 2015 and 2018, many of whom the Home Office was later ordered to bring back to Britain after it was recognised that they were removed unlawfully.
Under the Removal Notice Window policy, individuals were given between 72 hours and seven days’ notice that they could be removed without further warning at any time during the following 3 months. To challenge the removal, which could be within 72 hours, you had to find an immigration lawyer, make representations explaining why you should be allowed in the UK, wait for the Home Office to decide their application and if refused, find a lawyer to challenge that refusal, and in some cases, it was necessary to obtain an injunction to prevent their removal.
The Court of Appeal unanimously allowed Medical Justice’s appeal. The courts found that the Removal Notice Window policy created an ‘unacceptable risk of a breach of right to access to justice’. Lord Justice Hickinbottom, who gave the leading judgment, emphasised that the policy allowed ‘no adequate opportunity – or, indeed, any opportunity at all’ for someone to take advice and challenge a decision and went on to say that whether an irregular migrant had an opportunity was ‘a matter of pure happenchance’. ‘It is, in the legal sense, arbitrary and thus in any event unlawful,’ he added.
A Jamaican national, who lived legally in the UK for nearly 30 years, described the process as the ‘most inhumane and unjust process’ after being unlawfully detained and almost erroneously deported in 2017. ‘One of our society’s most precious treasures is access to justice,’ said a spokesperson for Medical Justice. ‘Chillingly, away from the public gaze, this policy denied that fundamental right on a massive scale causing serious harm to extremely vulnerable people and risking life. It was effectively a shortcut to removal. Quashing the policy brings us back towards equal access to justice for all.’
Rakesh Singh, a solicitor at the Public Law Project who represented Medical Justice, said that the ‘removal windows’ policy shut people out of the legal process. ‘It meant that when mistakes were made, people could not access the court to put things right and led the Home Office to remove people with a right to be here – including a number who were caught up in the Windrush situation. Removing people in this way caused terrible injustices and placed many individuals and families in danger and into hardship, unnecessarily and unjustly.’
A Home Office spokesperson said that the immigration and asylum system was ‘fundamentally broken and we are determined to introduce a new system that is fair, firm and will expedite the removal of those who have no legitimate claim for protection’.