Duncan Lewis Solicitors represents three claimants who have issued urgent proceedings challenging the Home Office’s policy of conducting abridged asylum screening interviews. We have sought interim relief in the form of an order requiring the Home Office to instruct officials completing screening interviews to ask all questions in full and to treat transit through Libya as an indicator of potential human trafficking/modern slavery.
The claimants’ case is that the abridged process led to a failure in each of their cases to identify trafficking indicators during their asylum screening interview and make a referral to the Single Competent Authority. The consequence was that instead of being offered protection by the state, all three claimants had their asylum claims certified on third country grounds; were unlawfully held in immigration detention; and had directions set for their removal from the UK. Those directions were not deferred and they were not referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) until our involvement. All three have now secured positive reasonable grounds decisions on the basis of their exploitation in Libya.
The interim relief application is supported by a large body of evidence from leading NGOs in the field, all confirming that the screening process, and in particular the questions asked with respect to exploitation and trafficking, are wholly inadequate and fail, on a systemic level, to identify potential victims of trafficking. The abridged process omits the requirement for Home Office officials to obtain a record of an individual’s full journey to the UK. This is an omission with particularly stark consequences for sub-Saharan Africans, many of whom transit through and are subjected to trafficking in Libya en route to the UK. The prevalence of modern slavery in Libya is well-known to the Home Office and the fact that an individual has journeyed through Libya should, the claimants argue, be treated as an indicator that he/she is a potential victim of trafficking.
The Secretary of State has conceded that an abridged interview process has been in play since March 2020, but maintains that the questions asked, along with other tools such as the preliminary information questionnaire, are adequate for identifying potential victims of trafficking.
We have stressed the urgency of securing interim relief in light of the Secretary of State’s commitment to removing up to 1,000 individuals before 31 December 2020 under the Dublin III process, many of whom will be in a similar position to that of the claimants. We are aware of several individuals being scheduled to be removed on upcoming flights. We are concerned that a potentially large number of people are unable to secure legal advice in time, and are therefore at risk of being unlawfully removed from the jurisdiction, without having undergone a proper screening process.
On 4 November Mr Justice Swift ordered that the cases be listed for an interim relief hearing, to be heard on 13 November 2020, allowing the Secretary of State an opportunity to respond to our application.
The claimants are represented by public law solicitor Maria Thomas and caseworkers Ines Graca, Molly Nicholson and Nina Kamp. Counsel are Chris Buttler and Zoe McCallum of Matrix chambers.