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Public law solicitor Jamie Bell is named The Times’ Lawyer of the Week (22 April 2021)

Date: 22/04/2021
Duncan Lewis, Main Solicitors, Public law solicitor Jamie Bell is named The Times’ Lawyer of the Week

Public law solicitor Jamie Bell has been named The Times’ Lawyer of the Week on account of work acting for Ahmed Lawal, a key witness to the death of his friend Oscar Okwurime in an immigration detention centre in 2019. The court ultimately found that the decision made by Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to remove Lawal before he could provide evidence was unlawful.

The application for judicial review arose following Oscar Okwurime’s death in his cell at IRC Harmondsworth. His death was not realised until the morning after.

Despite being legally required to assist in the coronial inquest by identifying and securing evidence from potential witnesses, the SSHD decided to continue with her plans to remove a number of potential witnesses by charter flight, including Mr Lawal who had been detained in the same wing at Harmondsworth at the time of Mr Okwurime’s death.

Mr Lawal was able to request that his removal be deferred in order to enable a proper investigation as to whether her could be a relevant witness for the forthcoming investigation but this was refused by the SSHD. He was thus compelled to issue last minute judicial review proceedings challenging the lawfulness of his removal in circumstances where the SSHD was removing potential witnesses to a death in her custody that was due to be investigated.

In September 2019 the High Court ordered an injunction on Mr Lawal’s removal and the coroner later confirmed that he was a key witness to the investigaton. Mr Lawal gave evidence in person, and following the hearing which took place in November 2020, the jury found that Mr Okwurime had died unnaturally, as a result of neglect.

The application for Judicial Review raised two issues.

(a) Whether the SSHD can lawfully remove a potential material witness to a death in custody in circumstances where their evidence has not been secured and a coroner has not made a decision as to whether they are required to give evidence at the final inquest hearing, and;

(b) Whether the SSHD’s failure to have in place a policy framework, which makes clear provision for a proper investigation into witnesses to a death in custody prior to any enforcement action being taken, is lawful.

The Court granted Mr Lawal’s application for judicial review on both grounds.

The ground-breaking judgment that marks the first time that the Secretary of State has been held accountable for her role, and failure, in ensuring the effective investigation of deaths in the immigration detention estate. It is also represents a first in confirming that the duty to ensure an effective investigation under Article 2 ECHR affects the exercise of the Secretary of State’s immigration powers.

The full details of the case can be found here.

Jamie acted for Mr Lawal throughout the proceedings, speaking to The Times, he comments on the biggest hurdles faced in this case.

“We worked under severe time pressures to bring the challenge. Fortunately, the court’s interim relief process prevented the initial unlawful action. Litigating during a pandemic is challenging — our lead counsel [Sonali Naik QC] cultivated a team mentality so we worked together effectively despite the distance.”

Since joining Duncan Lewis Solicitors in 2014, Jamie has gained significant experience in a wide variety of complex and high profile cases. He deals with vulnerable clients, including those in detention, those suffering from complex psychological issues and victims of torture and trafficking.

He frequently takes on cases at short notice and at all hours, to prevent the unlawful removal of asylum-seekers; with a particular commitment to representing Afghan Claimants following his involvement in the legal team that embarked on a series of judicial review claims challenging returns to Afghanistan after evidence emerged of the deteriorating security situation in the country. Since this litigation, there have been no further chartered flights to Afghanistan and the number of forced removals to Afghanistan has significantly reduced.

Jamie has since acted as a point of contact for questions about Afghanistan, providing training to lawyers at Duncan Lewis on the topic, and he has spoken on behalf of Duncan Lewis Solicitors at an event at Parliament, discussing the UK’s approach to Afghanistan as a country of asylum.

He is a Recommended Lawyer in The Legal 500, 2021 edition for his civil liberties and human rights work in London.

Being named The Time’s Lawyer of the Week is a great achievement and we are thrilled that Jamie’s hard work in this important matter has been recognised. Read the full interview here

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