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‘Home Office Policy Discriminates Against Women Refugees’ (25 February 2022)

Date: 25/02/2022
Duncan Lewis, Main Solicitors, ‘Home Office Policy Discriminates Against Women Refugees’

Duncan Lewis Solicitors has issued a judicial review against the Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) and her failure to provide access to in-person legal advice to women refugees in Derwentside immigration removal centre.

Under instruction from the charity Women for Refugee Women (WFRW), our challenge contends that this failure amounts to discrimination and affects their “fundamental right to access of justice.”

Female detainees at the County Durham removal centre, many of them victims of gender based violence and trafficking, have been told that they can only obtain legal advice over the phone, unlike men in similar circumstances.

Around a dozen women were transferred to Derwentside immigration removal centre, a former youth prison in County Durham, at the end of December. The centre replaced Yarl’s Wood as the main site for women detained for immigration purposes. Despite assurances in the Equality Impact Assessment that an in-person service would be available, the SSHD opened Derwentside without this in place.

Detainees can receive up to 30 minutes of free legal advice irrespective of financial eligibility. Our public law team’s own research revealed there is an inadequate number of immigration legal aid lawyers near the centre. Ministers cancelled the process of procuring legal advice provision for the new centre in November 2021, after receiving insufficient compliant tenders. The surgery rota was allocated to London-based firms, which had previously provided surgery advice at Yarl’s Wood. However, the Derwnentside centre is 10 hour round trip from London, making it impractical for face-to-face meetings.

On behalf of our client, our public law team says that the shift to Derwentside has resulted in discrimination against the women who will be held there, up to 80 detainees, as they are only able to access legal advice by phone, unlike at many of the centres occupied by men.

The vast majority of detained women are survivors of gender-based violence and trafficking. The WFRW charity contends that it takes a number of face-to-face attendances to build a rapport with such vulnerable clients and that there are going to be numerous issues with disclosure with this current set up.

Public law solicitor Shalini Patel said: “The Home Secretary’s decision to detain women at Derwentside, despite the issues with access to face-to-face legal advice is extremely concerning. Her own policy recognises that survivors of trafficking and/or gender-based violence may have additional difficulties with self-identifying and disclosing their trauma and yet she has continued with a women’s detention centre, in the knowledge that its location would severely restrict the detainees’ fundamental right to access of justice.”

The application has been made on behalf of WFRW by our public law team, and is led by public law director Toufique Hossain, solicitor Shalini Patel and lawyer Emma Dawson, instructing counsel Alex Goodman and Miranda Butler of Landmark Chambers.

A woman detained at Derwentside, who is issuing a separate legal challenge over the same issue, is instructing Duncan Lewis solicitor Lily Parrott. An application has been made for both claims to be linked.

To support Women for Refugee Women and help stop the detention of women at Derwentside please visit their Crowd Justice fund HERE

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