The High Court has today ordered the Government to urgently respond to the legal challenge launched by human rights charity Detention Action over the Government’s failure to safeguard those held in UK Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) from Covid-19. Duncan Lewis Solicitors have been instructed by Detention Action to bring this challenge.
The order, issued today (Thursday 19 March) by Mr Justice Swift, sets a deadline of 6pm on Friday 20 March for the Government to respond to the issues raised by the legal challenge.
It comes as Detention Action continues to hear from its anxious clients currently held across the immigration detention estate, including those with relevant underlying health issues such as diabetes, HIV and asthma, who report a lack of access to adequate healthcare; unsanitary conditions and little or no information regarding Covid-19.
Yesterday in Parliament, the Home Affairs Select Committee heard evidence on the preparation for, and response to, Covid-19 by the Home Office. The Committee heard from Lucy Moreton, Corporate Officer, Immigration Services Union, who said that “no procedures had changed” in IRCs and that “they are not testing because no testing is available.” Ms Moreton also stated that the Heathrow IRCs were currently in lockdown for “seasonal flu”.
Ms Moreton further accepted that "In light of the advice given by Foreign Secretary removal to anywhere globally is going to be problematic."
The challenge concerns the lawfulness of continued detention while global travel restrictions prevent removals from the UK, and whilst conditions in detention centres present a risk of serious harm and death as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak.
Detention Action is seeking the review and release of all those currently held under immigration powers and see an immediate halt to further detentions.
The challenge is supported by expert evidence from Prof. Coker (Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) who has advised that “it is credible and plausible that 60% of immigration detainees will soon become infected with COVID-19.” In light of this, Prof. Coker recommends that detainees should, if possible, be released.
The challenge follows reports from Detention Action clients and others held in IRCs, of widespread fear and panic amid unsanitary conditions and an almost total lack of information regarding Covid-19, both its risks and steps that can be taken to reduce its spread.
Concerns reported include: