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Duncan Lewis Solicitors’ Harrow public law team shortlisted for Legal Aid Team of the Year at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards 2020 (21 May 2020)

Date: 21/05/2020
Duncan Lewis, Main Solicitors, Duncan Lewis Solicitors’ Harrow public law team shortlisted for Legal Aid Team of the Year at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards 2020

We are thrilled to announce that our Harrow based public law team have been shortlisted at this year’s Legal Aid Practitioners Group’s Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year (LALY) Awards.

The LALY awards are organised by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and recognise the work carried out by legal aid lawyers throughout the year and celebrate the incredible work and the immense contribution that all legal aid lawyers make day-in day-out across the justice system.

Our public law and immigration department consists of multiple teams working across England and Wales. The Harrow-based public law team has in the last year achieved significant success and established themselves as one of the country’s leading teams in holding the government to account. The team is comprised of dynamic solicitors, trainees, and caseworkers, led by director Toufique Hossain.

Specialising almost exclusively in legally aided public law work, the team represents asylum seekers, refugees and victims of trafficking, assisting them assert their rights against the state. They regularly bring urgent judicial review challenges against removals and deportations, being the last hope for many who have battled against the immigration system. They bring further challenges against unlawful detention, false imprisonment, failures to recognise/assist victims of trafficking, unlawful age assessments, certification of claims, removals to Europe under Dublin III regulations and failures to recognise fresh asylum claims.

The team is well-known for developing and issuing challenges against policies and practices of the Home Office that are not compliant with human rights legislation and principles with the aim of dismantling the immigration detention system and the hostile environment. Such challenges are often taken on by team members, going above and beyond to force policy change.

The commitment to publicly funded work is perhaps best demonstrated through the successful challenge to the LAA’s refusal to backdate legal aid certificates that led to an amendment of the regulations, allowing practitioners to commence urgent and necessary work to secure access to justice for a client whilst the LAA considers the applications for a legal aid certificate. This widespread and long-lasting outcome will benefit the lives of countless marginalised individuals and help ameliorate the process for all practitioners.

In February 2020, the team were involved in challenging the ‘Jamaica50’ charter flight, the second deportation flight to Jamaica since the Windrush scandal broke. The challenge was brought on behalf of Detention Action, and an injunction was granted staying the removal of all detainees held at the Heathrow removal centres, after the team demonstrated there was evidence that phone signal issue impeded access to justice. The team brought a number of individual challenges that led to deferrals of removal, and have worked to secure their release from detention
Following this success, they worked alongside Detention Action on a second, more recent occasion, bringing a challenge with one other legally aided claimant against the detention of any individuals during the Covid-19 pandemic given the risks to those in unsanitary and crowded conditions with the lack of any realistic prospect of removal. While the Court refused to grant the release order sought, the litigation secured the release of hundreds of detainees and safeguards for those who remain in detention. The team continues to work to challenge the detention of those who remain detained during the pandemic.

Challenging the conditions at immigration detention centres occupies a large amount of the work undertaken by the team. Most notable is the successful landmark challenge against the Home Secretary’s failure to institute an effective Article 3 ECHR-compliant investigation into abuse of detainees at Brook House IRC. The team represented a client with severe mental health problems who was physically and verbally abused by detention staff at Brook House IRC. This abuse was captured on film by BBC Panorama which documented the abuse at Brook House. The High Court’s judgment found that the Home Secretary’s proposed PPO investigation was not appropriate and – as a direct result of the work carried out by the team – has led to the establishment of a formal public inquiry into the abuse, the first of its kind into immigration detention, for which the team will be representing their client as a core participant and key victim.

They are also currently challenging the ‘lock-in regime’ at Brook House and Colnbrook IRC under which detainees are locked into their rooms for approximately 13.5 hour a day despite no published policy and no express provisions in the Detention Centre Rules. The team considers the regime to be contrary to the purpose of detention centres and in breach of the detainees’ human rights.

The team’s success has not gone unrewarded, last year Maria Petrova-Collins was shortlisted at the LALY awards for Legal Aid Newcomer, and Raja Uruthiravinayagan, whose work focuses on Dublin III and Chapter 60 removal policy, won the LALY Public Law award in 2019.

As a team it is clear that they not only go above and beyond for their clients but also embrace the benefits of legal aid funding and fully appreciate its importance in the legal world.

We are incredibly proud of our public law team and looking forward to the awards night. The LALY awards are taking place virtually on 7 July 2020.

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