Posted on May 24, 2006

Home Secretary Must Pay Damages to Asylum Seekers

Times (London), May 22, 2006

Two asylum seekers have won a damages claim against John Reid, the Home Secretary, after they were denied prompt medical attention whilst held at a British detention centre.

Mr Justice Davis today ruled that the Government’s treatment of the asylum seekers breached its own 2001 Detention Centre Rules and demonstrated a “disinclination to abide by the statutory rules.”

The 2001 rules say that every detained person has to be given a physical and mental examination within 24 hours of admission to a detention centre.

The asylum seekers, a man and a woman known only as D and K, were “wrongfully denied” an examination within 24 hours and their rights had been “significantly infringed”, the judge said.

He added: “It was not a rare and regrettable lapse in the circumstances of these two cases. Rather it reflected the cross-the-board failure to give effect to the requirements.”

The case involved D, 28, from the Ivory Coast, who used a false French passport to enter the UK in May 2005 and claimed she had been detained and tortured in her home country.

The second case concerned K, 38, from Turkey who arrived in the UK in April 2005 hidden in a lorry, who said he had “proof on my body” that he had suffered torture.

Despite these claims, officials at the Oakington Detention Centre in Cambridgeshire did not arrange for medical examinations within the prescribed 24-hour period.

The judge said their treatment exposed “a long-standing state of affairs” in which “the Government has said one thing but done another” when it came to protecting the interests of possible torture victims.

He said the two asylum seekers were entitled to damages, to be assessed at another hearing.

The damages must be paid by the Home Secretary because the Government’s stance had led to the breach of its 2001 Detention Centre Rules, the judge added.

GSL UK , formerly known as Group 4 Total Security, which was privately contracted by the Government to run the Oakington centre in 2000, was cleared of liability.

The asylum seekers were represented by Hamish Arnott and Mark Scott of Bhatt Murphy solicitors.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Office accepts today’s judgment and regrets that these individuals were not seen by medical practitioners within 24 hours of their arrival and is committed to learning lessons from this incident.

During the case the judge described how the 2001 rules were introduced to safeguard possible torture victims who might otherwise be detained while their asylum claims were “fast tracked”.

He said the Government’s aim was to balance the need to protect torture victims against the competing need to deal with “bogus” asylum claims as speedily as possible. If there was sufficient independent evidence of torture, an asylum seeker would usually not be detained or subjected to the fast-track procedure, said the judge.

The failure was “a culmination of a long-standing state of affairs” and the position “must be rectified”.