Category: Human rights challenge

An end to child detention?: how a High Court judgement brings us closer

Simon Parker

This article originally appeared in openDemocracy, 13 January 2011.

In the High Court on Tuesday, Mr Justice Wyn Williams might have driven the last nail into the coffin of Britain’s infamous and long-running child immigration detention policy. The detaining of children for immigration purposes has been denounced as a ‘scandal’ and a ‘moral outrage’ by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, yet the current Home Secretary has spared no expense in expertly and robustly defending the policy.

The action was brought at the end of last year by Public Interest Lawyers on behalf of a Malaysian family of three and a Nigerian mother and her baby. Liberty and Bail for Immigration Detainees supported the action (Suppiah and Others vs SSHD and Others). In a judgment that noted Nick Clegg’s repeated disavowal of child detention as morally repugnant, the judge found that:

“The Defendant’s current policy relating to detaining families with children is not unlawful. There is, nonetheless, a significant body of evidence which demonstrates that employees of UKBA have failed to apply that policy with the rigour it deserves.”

Specifically, the UK Border Agency were held to have breached the families’ rights to liberty, privacy and family life (their Article 5 and Article 8 rights), though not Article 3, which relates to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Home Office does not contest that both families were arrested in the early hours of the morning, were given only a short time to pack, transported in locked and caged vans, and that a very young girl was body searched with her arms outstretched to the obvious distress of her mother.

Reetha Suppiah and her two sons, and Sakinat Bello and her baby, were then locked up at the infamous Yarl’s Wood Detention centre. As with many thousands of families to be sent there, soon after being taken into detention the children became sick and suffered from diarrhoea and vomiting. Reetha’s eldest son continues to suffer from a fear of authority and recalls seeing ‘policemen everywhere’ in detention.

In finding that “the detention of children is not something which should ever be lightly countenanced or allowed to continue except in such circumstances which clearly justify it and which do not reasonably permit of alternatives”, Justice Williams gave a clear and resounding rebuke to the policy of previous home secretaries, immigration ministers and their senior civil servants. Read more

Family detention case reaches High Court

On Tuesday 26 October, a judicial review challenge to the Government’s family detention policy reaches the High Court in London. The Claimants – two single mothers and their young children – are seeking an order declaring the Government’s family detention policy unlawful. In May 2010, the Coalition Government announced that it would end the detention of children for immigration purposes, a practice that the Deputy Prime Minister described as “a moral outrage”.

Five months on, children continue to be held at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre for indeterminate periods in prison-like conditions, the Government’s plans having stalled and been watered down. Last February, Reetha Suppiah, Sakinat Bello and their children were arrested by UK Border Agency officers in dawn raids. They and their children were loaded into vans with caged windows and driven to Yarl’s Wood in a state of confusion and distress. Reetha and her two boys (aged 1 and 11) were detained for 17 days, whilst Sakinat and her two year-old daughter were held for 12 days before being released back into the community. Both families had been reporting regularly to the immigration authorities prior to their arrest. Upon arrival at Yarl’s Wood, all of the children became sick, suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting.

It appears that the welfare needs of the families were not properly taken into account or even assessed prior to the decision to detain, and the detention experience has had a profound effect upon them. Reetha’s eldest child was particularly badly affected and recalls seeing “policemen everywhere” in Yarl’s Wood. Since his release, he has lived in continuous fear of re-arrest. The families claim that their detention was unlawful and that it subjected them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They also allege breaches of the children’s rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Jim Duffy of Public Interest Lawyers said today: “Our clients’ experiences and the broad expert consensus point to a practice that is inhumane, destructive and unnecessary. Child detention has to end now.” The claim will be heard over three days from 26th until 28th October.

For further information please contact Public Interest Lawyers on 07912 691 727.

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