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The Home Office releases hundreds of detainees in the wake of Duncan Lewis Solicitors legal action (23 March 2020)

Date: 23/03/2020
Duncan Lewis, Main Solicitors, The Home Office releases hundreds of detainees in the wake of Duncan Lewis Solicitors legal action

In the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Home Office has released almost 300 people from detention centres. This comes following the legal action launched last week where our public law team argued that the Home Office has failed to protect immigration detainees from the Covid-19 outbreak and has also failed to identify which individuals in detention are at particular risk should they contract the illness on account of their age or underlying health issues. This legal action is believed to be the first of its kind against the government concerning Covid-19.

Last Thursday (19th March 2020) the High Court 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. This came following the number of reports Detention Action received from its clients, including those with relevant underlying health issues such as diabetes, HIV and asthma, who reported a lack of access to adequate healthcare; unsanitary conditions and little or no information regarding Covid-19.

The challenge is brought by Detention Action and a 60-year-old man who has been detained since last June and is currently held in Morton Hall IRC. The Claimant suffers from hypertension and is deeply concerned about his increased risk of serious illness and death from Covid-19 due to his health conditions.

As part of the legal action, the legal team commissioned a report by public health expert Prof Richard Coker of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which warns that prisons and detention centres provide ideal incubation conditions for the rapid spread of Covid-19, and that about 60% of those in detention could be rapidly infected if the virus gets into detention centres.

Immigration detention in the UK is lawful only if there is an immediate prospect of removal from the UK. There are seven immigration detention centres across the country holding approximately 1500–2000 individuals at any one time with no defined time limits, and around 24,000 in total per year. Conditions in IRCs are often unhygienic, as found by the government’s own inquiry of July 2018 conducted by Stephen Shaw among many other independent bodies. This makes them highly susceptible to a Covid-19 pandemic. The likelihood of removal taking place is heavily reduced given the global flight restrictions currently in place from many countries.

Philip Armitage, a solicitor within the Harrow-based public law department at Duncan Lewis which brought the legal action, comments on the unfolding situation.

“The Home Office have been forced to release hundreds of individuals because of the compelling case made in our Judicial Review. We have expert evidence that detention centres are particularly susceptible to a COVID-19 pandemic because of their unsanitary conditions and that many individuals are at serious risk to their health due to underlying medical conditions. Whilst it will no doubt be a relief for each of these individuals that they have been released, with a confirmed case of COVID-19 now in Yarl’s Wood IRC, we are continuing to push for the release of as many more detainees as possible before a public health disaster unfolds.”

The case has been listed for an interim relief hearing at the Divisional Court on Wednesday 25 March 2020. This is likely to be a telephone / video hearing given the current circumstances.

The legal action is being carried out by our public law director Toufique Hossain, caseworker Georgia Banks, and solicitor Philip Armitage who are instructing Chris Buttler and Ayesha Christie of Matrix Chambers.


For queries contact Toufique Hossain on 07940 502376 or at toufiqueh@duncanlewis.com.

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