Thousands of asylum seekers have been unlawfully detained in UK immigration detention centres, the Supreme Court has ruled, in a judgement striking down Home Office immigration rules.
The judgement will see millions of pounds worth of compensation paid out to detainees who have been held in the UK awaiting deportation to the European Union countries where they first made an asylum claim. Many of those affected by the ruling have fled countries such as Eritrea and Iran, where they had been subjected to torture, trafficking, and religious and ethnic persecution.
Under the European Union’s Dublin III Regulation, which came into force on January 2014, asylum seekers in the United Kingdom can be returned to the European Union country where they have previously made a claim for refugee status. In 2018, the United Kingdom made 5,510 requests to other European countries for asylum seekers to be transferred, of which 4% were eventually carried out.
Dublin III rules allow asylum seekers to be detained before deportation, but only if they can be shown to have a ‘significant risk of absconding’. However, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Home Office guidelines on assessing that risk, set down during Theresa May’s tenure as Home Secretary in 2015, contravened European Union law, and therefore sanctioned the ‘wrongful imprisonment’ of thousands of those fleeing persecution.
In the case before the Supreme Court, five asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan had launched legal proceedings challenging their proposed removal and detention by the UK government. The Court of Appeal had previously ruled that the five individuals had been wrongfully imprisoned, but this decision was subsequently challenged by the Home Office, and sent to the Supreme Court.
Delivering his judgement, Supreme Court judge Lord Kitchin ruled that the Court of Appeal were right to determine that the five asylum seekers were unlawfully detained, stating that under European human rights law, any person held illegally must be released and awarded compensation. Commenting on the case, Colin Yeo, a barrister at human rights chambers Garden Court, stated that ‘it is deeply concerning that the Home Office’s conduct has led to the detention of so many vulnerable people seeking international protection without any lawful basis.’
The County Court will now determine exactly how much compensation the five asylum seekers who brought the claim may be entitled to.