The United Kingdom: High Court finds Home Secretary’s investigation into immigration detention inadequate

Friday, June 14, 2019

On 14 June 2019, the High Court published a judgment in the case of M.A. and B.B. v. The Secretary of State for the Home Department regarding requirements and standards of investigation into immigration detention in Brook House Immigration Removal Centre.

The applicants, M.A. and B.B were detained in Brook House for two months and seven months, respectively. M.A. arrived to the UK as an unaccompanied child seeking asylum. He was detained following a suspended sentence; while in remand it was noted that he had a history of self-harm and mental illness and in detention, he attempted suicide. B.B. was detained following the revocation of his refugee status and the issuance of a deportation order. While in detention, it was recorded that B.B. had mental health issues and was taking medication.

The judge first detailed the conditions of detention and misconduct of staff, including G4S security staff, in Brook House as brought to light in a 2017 BBC ‘Panorama’ programme that revealed widespread physical and verbal abuse committed by staff against those detained. Both applicants allege that the abuse they were subject to amount to inhuman and degrading treatment and/or punishment/torture, in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The Court recognised the positive obligation to investigate breaches of Article 3. At issue in the instant proceedings was the scope and powers of the Prisons and Probation (PPO) Special Investigation. The claimants contend that an effective investigation discharging the Article 3 duty cannot be achieved unless the PPO has broad powers from the outset.

Recognising the claimants’ submission, the judge first held that an effective enquiry should have the power to compel the attendance of witnesses. She held that this was necessary due to the egregious nature of the breaches, the multiplicity and frequency of abuse and the openness of the activity, along with very good reason to believe the perpetrators and other G4S staff will not voluntarily attend to give evidence.

She held that it was right to afford the abused detainees an opportunity to see and confront their abusers on equal terms, as a means of restoring dignity and respect and as an important psychological restorative. She held that despite there having been previous investigations, the full extent of the discreditable behaviour had not been exposed to public view. To that end, she recommended public hearings to ensure sufficient accountability, allay suspicions of state tolerance of the mistreatment of the weak, and ultimately maintain public confidence in the rule of law. She recognised the hostile political and media rhetoric towards refugees and migrants and held that it is important to publicly vindicate the detainees’ rights. Finally, with reference to ECtHR case law, the Court recognised the importance of victim involvement and representation.


This item was reproduced with the permission of ECRE from the ELENA Weekly Legal Update. The purpose of these updates is to inform asylum lawyers and legal organizations supporting asylum seekers and refugees of recent developments in the field of asylum law. Please note that the information provided is taken from publicly available information on the internet. Every reasonable effort is made to make the content accurate and up to date at the time each item is published but no responsibility for its accuracy and correctness, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by ECRE.



Effective remedy (right to)