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Home Office backs down on refugee pushbacks policy in the face of legal challenge by Duncan Lewis and others (26 April 2022)

Date: 26/04/2022
Duncan Lewis, Main Solicitors, Home Office backs down on refugee pushbacks policy in the face of legal challenge by Duncan Lewis and others

Duncan Lewis Solicitors was instructed by the Public and Commercial Services Union and Care4Calais in a challenge to the Home Office policy, announced in September 2021, of turning back small refugee boats in the English Channel and forcibly redirecting them to return to France. The claimants challenged the policy on the grounds that it directed Border Force staff to act beyond their statutory enforcement powers, and directed them to breach migrants’ rights to life and not to be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment. The claim also highlighted the risks of mental harm, distress, and physical harm to Border Force staff posed by the policy.

Just one week before the final hearing of the judicial review of the policy, following correspondence from the Government’s legal department late on Sunday 24 April, the Home Office confirmed its withdrawal of the policy. A court order handed down on 25 April confirmed that, as a result, the claimants have withdrawn their application and the Home Office will pay the claimants’ costs in full.

The climb down comes as the Nationality and Borders Bill reaches its final stages in Parliament where the House of Lords has twice rejected parts of the Bill that would severely penalise refugees arriving in the UK without a visa, in line with their rights under the Refugee Convention.

Jeremy Bloom, lead solicitor on the case at Duncan Lewis Solicitors said: “PCS and Care4Calais first put the Home Office on notice that this policy was unlawful in November 2021. It took until 11 April 2022 for the Government to disclose the policy under challenge, and even then, much of it was confidential to the parties in the proceedings. 14 days after that disclosure, this inhumane policy was withdrawn. We are certain that the Home Secretary has withdrawn the policy because she knew that she would lose in Court if she went to trial. This is a good day for vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers and for the Border Force officials that were under great pressure from the Home Secretary to put their lives and the lives of refugees at risk."

PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka said: "This humiliating climbdown by the government is a stunning victory for Home Office workers and for refugees. PCS is proud to have brought this legal action alongside refugee groups in order to prevent this morally reprehensible and utterly inhumane proposal from ever seeing the light of day.

There is little doubt that lives have been saved. The Pushbacks manoeuvre is extremely dangerous and represents a clear risk to life and limb. We were simply not prepared to allow our members to be placed in this horrendous position."

Clare Moseley, founder of Care4Calais, said: "I find it hard to believe that anyone within government thought that performing pushbacks in the Channel was a viable policy. Threatening these tactics is yet another example of this government trying to score political points by bullying vulnerable people who simply need our help. We’re delighted that no more time or money will be wasted on this idea but it's a shame it took a legal challenge from our charity and others to put an end to it.

We are now preparing to challenge the government’s next toxic idea – to send innocent people to Rwanda - another staggeringly expensive exercise when we should be helping people who are simply trying to escape bloody conflict, persecution and torture."

The members of the team representing the Public and Commercial Services Union and Care4Calais at Duncan Lewis Solicitors are Toufique Hossain, Jeremy Bloom, Sophie Lucas, Nina Kamp and Karen Kachi Odidika. Counsel instructed are Chris Buttler QC, James Robottom and Katy Sheridan at Matrix Chambers.

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