The Weekly Round-up: Home Office deaths and Post Office “thefts”

26 April 2021 by

Home Secretary Priti Patel

In the News:

The Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) has found that Priti Patel breached her procedural obligations under Article 2 of the ECHR in respect of deaths in immigration detention.  

The application for judicial review arose following the death of Oscar Lucky Okwurime on 12 September 2019 in his cell at IRC Harmondsworth. Mr Okwurime had tried but failed to secure healthcare at the centre. He was not provided with his obligatory ‘Rule 34’ GP appointment within 24 hours of his arrival.

Priti Patel was subject to a legal requirement to assist the coronial inquest by identifying and securing evidence from potential witnesses. Instead, she elected to continue with her plans to remove a number of potential witnesses, including the Applicant, Mr Lawal, a close friend of Mr Okwurime.

Later, the Area Coroner for West London required Mr Lawal to attend the inquest on the basis that he was “an important witness of fact.” The jury later found that “multiple failures to adhere to healthcare policy” and “neglect” contributed to Mr Okwurime’s death from coronary heart disease.

The court found that Patel acted unlawfully in deciding to remove the Applicant in that she failed to take to take reasonable steps to secure the applicant’s evidence concerning the death of Oscar Okwurime. Aditionally, the absence of a policy directing caseworkers on how to exercise immigration powers in a case concerning a witness to a death in custody was unlawful. This was contrary to her Article 2 procedural obligations.

A Home Office spokesperson has said that, in light of the judgment, its processes were being refreshed and a checklist was being introduced to ensure all potential witnesses are identified.

The decision comes as Patel faces criticism for “serious mistakes” and “fundamental failures of leadership and planning” by the Home Office in managing former military sites as makeshift accommodation for asylum seekers. The Home Office is also being sued by a female asylum seeker who claims that staff at her asylum accommodation refused to call an ambulance for three hours after she told them she was pregnant, in pain and bleeding. When she was eventually taken to a nearby hospital, she learned that her baby had died.

In Other News:

  • Helena Kennedy QC, a leading human rights barrister and author of Eve Was Framed, has been included on the list of those sanctioned by the Chinese government for criticism of the human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province. Together with David Alton, a crossbencher, she helmed an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to persuade the UK government to create a procedure that would have enabled the English high court to make a determination on whether the evidence reached the threshold for genocide. China has imposed sanctions on 10 other UK organisations and individuals, including the former leader of the Conservative party Iain Duncan Smith, over what it called the spreading of “lies and disinformation” about human rights abuses in Xinjiang.
  • The investigatory powers tribunal (IPT), which examines allegations that the state has misused its surveillance powers, has heard from an environmental activist who was deceived into a long-term sexual relationship by an undercover Metropolitan police officer that his managers knew about the deception and allowed it to continue. A judge-led public inquiry into the activities of undercover officers is ongoing; Phillipa Kaufmann QC, who represents women deceived into sexual relationships, has called the practice “endemic”.

In the Courts:

  • Hamilton & Ors v Post Office Ltd [2021] EWCA Crim 577: the Court of Appeal quashed the convictions of thirty nine men and women employed by the Post Office as sub-postmasters, sub-postmistresses, managers or counter assistants; three other former employees’ appeals failed and were dismissed. All the appellants were prosecuted by their employer and convicted of crimes of dishonesty. The reliability of the computerised accounting system, “Horizon”, in use in branch post offices during the relevant period, was essential to the prosecutions. Despite repeated assertions by the Post Office that the system was robust and reliable, it has become clear that it was critically undermined by bugs and glitches which cause it to incorrectly record shortfalls. The court called the convictions “an affront to the public conscience.” A public inquiry chaired by Sir Wyn Williams, President of Welsh Tribunals, is currently trying to establish an account of the implementations and failings of the system.
  • Howard, R (On the Application Of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2021] EWHC 1023 (Admin): the High Court ruled that the Home Office’s handling of a Windrush citizenship application was irrational and unlawful. Hubert Howard was repeatedly denied British citizenship over the course of a decade, despite having lived in the UK since he arrived from Jamaica at the age of three in 1960, on the grounds that a number of minor convictions prevented him from meeting a “good character” requirement, which is an eligibility criteria for citizenship.
  • Elkundi & Ors, R (On the Application Of) v Birmingham City Council [2021] EWHC 1024 (Admin): the High Court has ruled that Birmingham City Council has been operating an unlawful system for the performance of its main housing duty under the Housing Act 1996. The Council had been operating on the basis that an applicant owed the main housing duty may be left in unsuitable accommodation while the Council takes a reasonable time to secure permanent suitable accommodation. Steyn J held that this was unlawful; the main housing duty is an “immediate, unqualified and non-deferrable” duty to secure suitable accommodation. Putting applicants on a waiting list was not a lawful means of performing that duty.

On the UKHRB:

  • Caroline Cross covers a recent case in which the boundaries of causation in mesothelioma deaths were tested and clarified.
  • Martin Forde QC summarises the High Court’s decision (set out briefly above) that the Home Office’s handling of a Windrush citizenship application was unlawful

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