Time limits for the return of asylum seekers – did the clock stop ticking?

Time limits for the return of asylum seekers – did the clock stop ticking?

Analogue-clock-007Mucaj, Re Judicial Review, [2017] CSOH 17 – read judgment.

Asylum seeker’s claim that he cannot be returned to Belgium under the Dublin III Regulations due to non-compliance with time limits by authorities fails.

The petitioner in this case, Bahri Mucaj, was an Albanian that arrived in Belgium in November 2011. After unsuccessfully claiming asylum in Belgium, the petitioner entered the UK and sought asylum here in late December 2014. The petitioner then sent a “take back” request to Belgium under The Dublin III Regulations (“Dublin III” – available here) in order for the Belgian authorities to reconsider his original application. This request was accepted on 7 January 2015 by the Belgian authorities. Consequently, the Secretary of State refused to consider the petitioner’s asylum application due to the fact that there was the possibility to send the individual back to a “safe” country – Belgium. The petitioner then wrote to the Secretary of State alleging that sending him back to Belgium would result in violations of both Article 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This claim was based on the living conditions that they had endured whilst originally in Belgium and the likelihood that they would be subject to similar conditions on return. This claim was refused and removal directions were issued to return the petitioner and his family to Belgium. The petitioner subsequently challenged this removal decision.

As was her policy at the time, the Secretary of State cancelled her removal directions pending the court’s decision. At this point, in mid-2015, there were a number of similar Judicial Review requests concerning the return of asylum seekers to European countries under Dublin III and the potential violation of Article 3. Following the leading decision in AL v Advocate General for Scotland, [2015] CSOH 95, which found in favour of the respondents, the petitioner in the current proceedings made amendments to their arguments. Instead of pursuing substantive challenges to the removal decision based on human rights grounds, the petitioner argued that the authorities had not complied with the time limits for return in Dublin III.

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Scottish prisoner successfully challenges decision refusing permission to own a laptop

Email on computer

Photo credit: The Guardian

Beggs, Re Judicial Review, [2016] CSOH 153 – read judgment.  

The refusal to allow a Scottish prisoner to purchase a laptop for use in prison has been successfully challenged in the Outer House of the Court of Session. However, the Outer House decision focussed on the flawed decision making process as opposed to the substantive conclusion reached by prison authorities.

Background

In 2001, the petitioner was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Whilst in prison, the petitioner, Mr Beggs, made a number of requests to be allowed to purchase a laptop. Mr Beggs intended for this laptop to be used to prepare responses to his lawyers in connection to a number of civil and criminal court actions in which he was involved. Additionally, Mr Beggs intended for the laptop to be used for educational purposes. However, each request made by Mr Beggs was refused.

This issue had been raised as early as 2002. The Scottish Prison Complaints Commissioner had stated that Mr Beggs “is a highly educated, intelligent man whose literacy is excellent”. The formal recommendations stemming from the Commissioner’s consideration of the matter was that Mr Beggs should be provided with a word processor and a printer to assist with his legal casework. However, no such access was forthcoming. As a result, Mr Beggs raised a first set of judicial review proceedings. Such proceedings were halted prior to the first hearing after the authorities agreed to provide computer facilities and a printer. This arrangement between Mr Beggs and the authorities at HMP Peterhead did not operate smoothly. Mr Beggs was allowed to access a communal laptop provided by the prison. However, another prisoner was often using this laptop. As a result, Mr Beggs made a request for permissions to have his own personal laptop.

Scottish Policy on personal laptops

The Governors and Managers Action Notices 84A of 1998 and 15A of 1999 (“GMA 1998” and “GMA 1999”) are the relevant policy documents covering prisoner ownership of computers/word processors. Under GMA 1998 there was a prohibition on prisoners in closed establishments from owning such devices (which would include laptops). However, GMA 1999 relaxed this position and allowed a prisoner to own a laptop in “exceptional cases” if “compelling reasons” had been shown. Additionally, there was the need to demonstrate that any security concerns could be adequately addressed.

This scheme for ownership of laptops operated separately from the various schemes allowing prisoners to access prison-owned laptops. The relevant protocol was most recently updated in March 2013. It only afforded prisoners access for legal work and required completion of a written application form. Access would not be provided unless the individual could show “real prejudice to his case” if access were restricted. Additionally, resources were limited as prisons only owned a certain number of laptops (which cost £1,000 to purchase). All in all, the scheme for accessing prison owned laptops was very restrictive and of little practical use.

Requests for a laptop

Mr Beggs initial request to the governor of HMP Peterhead was refused. Whilst recognising that “compelling circumstances” under GMA 1999 existed to depart from the general ban of laptops contained in GMA 1998, the governor refused the request due to the fact that the protocol for accessing communal computer equipment adequately met Mr Beggs’ needs.

Mr Beggs made a number of similar requests following this initial refusal. All requests were unsuccessful and often referenced the fact that the ability to access a communal laptop was sufficient.

In March 2014, having been moved to HMP Edinburgh, the petitioner made another request to be allowed a laptop. Again, he emphasised that a laptop was necessary to allow him manage the vast amount of legal documents that had amassed from various legal actions and also to allow him to further his academic interests. The governor of HMP Edinburgh refused this request. This time, Mr Beggs’ request was refused due to a failure to show that “exceptional circumstances” justifying the provision of a laptop existed as required under GMA 1999. The governor also noted that there were other individuals in the prison who were able to manage their cases without utilising a laptop.

It is this decision of March 2014 that the petitioner sought to have judicially reviewed.

Outer House Decision

Lord Malcolm began his decision by considering the relevant policy documents. As discussed above, GMA 1998 and 1999 established a system that required the individual to show “compelling circumstances” to justify departing from the general ban on prisoners in closed establishments owning laptops and that the relevant security concerns could be addressed. Lord Malcolm noted that only one individual had previously applied for a personal laptop, namely the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombings, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.  he had been allowed a laptop. Accordingly, it was clear that the relevant security concerns could be addressed.

Further, the existence of prison-owned laptops was irrelevant. The protocol allowing access to communal laptops existed independently of the scheme for personal laptops under GMA 1998 and 1999. The “very restrictive” prison laptop protocol could not be relied upon as a justification for refusing a personal laptop (despite the fact that such reasoning had been adopted by numerous decision makers in response to Mr Beggs’ previous requests prior to March 2014).

In considering the specific refusal reviewed by Mr Beggs, that of March 2014, Lord Malcolm noted that the governor of HMP Edinburgh merely stated that the petitioner’s circumstances were not “exceptional” and therefore there was no need to provide a personal laptop. But Lord Malcolm, whilst not explicitly disagreeing with the conclusion, empathised with Mr Beggs. Due to a number of factors, including the early positive response of the Scottish Prisons Complaints Commissioner, the undertaking agreed in the context of the first judicial review proceedings, and the initial decision of the governor of HMP Peterhead that “compelling circumstances” existed, Mr Beggs could reasonably expect his position to be considered “exceptional”. A decision that all of the above, amongst other considerations, did not amount to “compelling circumstances” should be be afforded “a more considered, detailed, and reasoned response than anything provided [to Mr Beggs] so far”.

As a result, Lord Malcolm reduced the decision of March 2014 and all subsequent decisions.

Comment

Ultimately, this decision of the Outer House relates purely to the decision making process adopted by the prison authorities. It’s easy to have sympathy with Mr Beggs. Despite previous assurances and, at first glance, clear “exceptional circumstances” he was repeatedly refused permission to buy his own personal laptop. These refusals included no reasons which effectively prevented Mr Beggs from being able to assess the height of the hurdle he had to clear in order to be successful.

The result of this judgment is that the governor of HMP Edinburgh will have to consider Mr Begg’s request afresh. In considering the substantive question of whether Mr Begg’s should be allowed a laptop there appears a number of factors in favour of granting permission. First, Mr Beggs has always offered to pay for the laptop himself. Instead of costing the authorities money, this would actually result in less reliance being placed on the limited number of communal laptops provided by the prison. Secondly, there is clearly no insurmountable issues regarding security; Mr al-Megrahi was provided a laptop, and numerous prisoners use communal laptops under the relevant protocol whilst in closed establishments. Finally, it may appear inconsistent to allow prisoners to enjoy Xboxes and PlayStations, which can also potentially access wifi and are explicitly permitted, whilst refusing to allow Mr Beggs to purchase a laptop for legal and educational purposes.

Strasbourg again favouring safety of conviction over cross-examination of witnesses?

Strasbourg_ECHR-300x297Simon Price v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 15602/07, 15 September 2016 – read judgment.

In a unanimous decision, the European Court of Human Rights has held that the proceedings that lead to the conviction of an individual for drug trafficking charges were entirely compliant with Article 6, ECHR. Despite the inability to cross-examine a key prosecution witness, the Court considered that in light of the existence of supporting incriminating evidence (amongst other factors) the proceedings as a whole were fair.

Background

In June 2004 a ship, entering the port of Rotterdam, was searched by customs officials and found to contain a quantity of cocaine worth £35 million. The applicant, Simon Price, was arrested after he made enquiries into the container shortly after. He was subsequently charged with an offence under s.20, Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and with the attempted importation of drugs from Guyana to the United Kingdom via the Netherlands and Belgium. Continue reading

Strasbourg finds that UK authorities again fail to show “due diligence” in deportation proceedings

Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre in Bedfordshire.

Photo credit: the Guardian

V.M. v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 49734/12, 1 September 2016: read judgment

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that part of an individual’s detention pending deportation violated the right to liberty protected by Article 5, ECHR. This judgment is the second recent ruling to find a lack of “due diligence” on behalf of UK authorities following the Court’s judgment in J.N. v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 37289/12, 19 May 2016 (see my previous UKHRB post here).

Background

The applicant, VM, entered the UK illegally on 18 November 2003 with her son (S). Soon after, her son became the subject of an interim care order and the applicant was charged with child cruelty under the relevant legislation. Following an unsuccessful application for asylum due to fears for her life back in Nigeria, VM pleaded guilty to the child cruelty charges in August 2004. However, following the granting of bail pending the next hearing in February 2005, VM absconded for a period of over two years.

In September 2007 the applicant was again arrested, this time on charges relating to possession of false documentation with intent to commit fraud. Following conviction she was sentenced to nine months in prison. The applicant was also eventually convicted of the child cruelty charges in April 2008. Before sentencing, a psychological report was produced that indicated the applicant suffered from depressive and psychotic symptoms. However, such symptoms were being adequately managed through therapy and medication. Accordingly, there was no need to consider specialised treatment in a hospital or prison healthcare wing under the Mental Health Act 1983. The applicant was therefore sentenced to twelve months imprisonment, with an additional three months due to the failure to surrender to bail, in July 2008. At this point, due to the severity of the offences, the domestic judge recommended that the applicant be deported. Continue reading

Strasbourg Court rules on “excessive” length of Scottish criminal proceedings

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O’Neill and Lauchlan v. United Kingdom, nos. 41516/10 and 75702/13, 28 June 2016 – read judgment.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that criminal proceedings concerning two Scottish individuals ran beyond the “reasonable” period of time permitted under Article 6, ECHR. Despite considering that the individual stages of the proceedings were all reasonable in length, the cumulative time was excessive and in violation of Article 6(1).

Background

In August 1998, the applicants were sentenced to periods of imprisonment of eight and six years following convictions for various sex offences. During their incarceration, the police wished to question the applicants about the disappearance, and suspected murder, of their ex-housemate (AM) after she had been reported missing six months earlier. On 17 September 1998 the applicants were detained by police and interviewed separately for over five hours. During these interviews they were directly accused of the murder of AM but, subsequently, neither applicant was arrested or formally charged.

Following release from prison, and subsequent re-arrest and recall to prison due to the apparent abduction of a fourteen year old boy, the applicants were again convicted of various sex offences and sentenced to a further three years in prison. During this period of incarceration the applicants were also placed on petition in relation to the murder of AM in early April 2005. Formal charges were brought on 5 April 2005 whilst the police continued with their investigations. However, in late 2005, Crown Counsel raised concerns about the sufficiency of evidence. Accordingly, a decision to take “no proceedings meantime” was made in December 2005 and subjected to continuous review as investigations continued. Continue reading

Restriction of student loans in Scotland to under-55s deemed to be unlawfully discriminatory

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Hunter, Re Judicial Review, [2016] CSOH 71 – read judgment.

The Outer House of the Court of Session has held that the restriction of student loans to individuals under 55 years old in Scotland is unjustifiably discriminatory. Additionally, the Scottish Ministers breached their public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010 by failing to assess the discriminatory effects that the regulation imposing this age restriction would have.

Background

The petitioner, Elizabeth Hunter, applied for a student loan from the Students Awards Agency for Scotland (“SAAS”) in order to allow her to pursue a course in Hospitality Management. At the time of applying for this loan, in 2014, the petitioner was aged 55. In line with Regulation 3(2)(b)(ii), Education (Student Loans) (Scotland) Regulations 2007, she was refused the loan. Regulation 3(2)(b)(ii) limits eligibility for student loans to individuals under 55.

The petitioner claimed that this decision, and the relevant regulation, unlawfully discriminated against her in violation of Article 14, ECHR. Additionally, she also claimed that the Scottish Ministers had failed to consider the potentially discriminatory effect that these regulations could have and, therefore, failed to satisfy their public sector equality duty (“PSED”) imposed by section 149, Equality Act 2010.

Article 14, which protects against discrimination on the basis of age, amongst other characteristics, is not a “free-standing” right. Instead, it is only applicable when the facts of the case fall within the scope of one of the Convention’s substantive provisions. Accordingly, the first issue for Lady Scott was to assess whether one of the substantive Convention rights was engaged in this situation. The petitioner submitted that either Article 1, Protocol 1, which includes the right to property and possessions, or, alternatively, Article 2, Protocol 1, which protects the right to education, was of relevance. Continue reading

Article 5 ECHR does not require time limits for detention pending deportation

J.N. v. the United Kingdom, Application no. 37289/12, 19 May 2016 – read judgment.

Image result for guardian yarl wood

Photo credit: The Guardian

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the general system for detention of individuals prior to deportation in the United Kingdom, which lacks specific maximum time-limits, complies with Article 5, ECHR (Right to liberty and security of the person). However, in the proceedings involving J.N., the authorities had not acted with sufficient “due diligence”, which resulted in a violation of Article 5.

Background

The applicant, known as J.N., arrived in the UK in early 2003 and unsuccessfully sought asylum soon after. In February 2004 he was convicted of indecent assault and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. Following his release he was subjected to a number of conditions which he failed to comply with. This led the Secretary of State to issue an order deporting J.N. back to Iran. On 31 March 2005 the applicant was detained pending deportation.

Complications arose when attempts were made to obtain the necessary travel documents from the Iranian Embassy. Eventually, in November 2007, the Embassy agreed to issue the documents if the applicant signed a “disclaimer” consenting to his return. The applicant refused to sign this disclaimer.

Despite being released for one month following review of his detention by the Administrative Court in December 2007, the applicant was once again detained in January 2008. He continued to refuse to sign the disclaimer that was necessary to obtain the travel documents and to effect the deportation. During this second period of detention the authorities considered prosecuting the applicant for failing to comply with the Secretary of State’s request to take specific action to obtain a travel document (under s. 35, Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004). But no prosecution was forthcoming. Additionally, J.N. agreed to sign the disclaimer if he was compensated for the periods of detention. However, the UK Border Agency refused to do so.

Domestic Proceedings

J.N.’s refusal to sign the disclaimer continued until late-2009 when J.N.’s solicitors began judicial review proceedings challenging the lawfulness of his detention. In considering the lawfulness of the detention pending deportation, the judge considered the four principles established in R v. Governor of Durham Prison, ex parte Hardial Singh, [1984] WLR 704:

  1. The Secretary of State must intend to deport the person and can only use the power to detain for that purpose;
  2. The deportee may only be detained for a period that is reasonable in all the circumstances;
  3. If, before the expiry of the reasonable period, it becomes apparent that the Secretary of State will not be able to effect deportation within that reasonable period, he should not seek to exercise the power of detention;
  4. The Secretary of State should act with reasonable diligence and expedition to effect removal.

The judge considered that the authorities responsible for the deportation had acted with a “woeful lack of energy and impetus”. They had failed to change their approach to the situation, they refused to bring a prosecution under the relevant legislation. Further, they had not approached the Iranian authorities to see if they would change their position regarding the need for a disclaimer. The Secretary of State had fallen short of the fourth requirement established in Hardial Singh. Accordingly, the judge found that the applicant’s detention had been unlawful from 14 September 2009 onwards.

The Strasbourg Court

Article 5 protects the right to liberty and security of persons. Restrictions of liberty are permissible if they fall within one of the specific grounds highlighted in Article 5(1). Article 5(1)(f) relates to detention “of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation or extradition”. Any detention in pursuance of this objective must be prescribed by, and comply with, domestic law. Additionally, the domestic law must be “sufficiently accessible, precise and foreseeable in its application, in order to avoid all risk of arbitrariness”. To satisfy this “quality of law” requirement, domestic law should include clear provisions on the ordering and extension of detention as well as effective remedies that can be used by the individual to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. These requirements act as safeguards against arbitrary detention.

The applicant complained that the UK system for detention pending deportation did not specify maximum time limits for such detention and that this led to a violation of Article 5(1). Additionally, there was a need for automatic judicial scrutiny of any detention as opposed to requiring the individual to initiate judicial review proceedings themselves. Finally, the applicant submitted that if the UK’s system was said to satisfy the “quality of law” requirement, then the entirety of his detention had been unlawful, and in violation of Article 5, as at no point had there been a realistic prospect of removal (see paras. 59-63).

Lack of time-limits within the UK system (paras. 90-93)

The ECtHR had previously held that Article 5(1)(f) does not impose maximum time limits for detention pending deportation. However, the absence of such time-limits will be a factor in assessing whether domestic law satisfies the “quality of law” requirement. But other protections against arbitrariness, including the ability to review the lawfulness of the detention, are equally important.

The “EU Returns Directive” (see Article 15 here) does set down a maximum time limit of 18 months for detention pending deportation. However, the UK has opted out of this Directive and it is therefore not binding. The ECtHR considered that despite this Directive creating a uniform approach over the majority of Council of Europe States, it could not be considered that such a position was required by Article 5(1)(f) or that this is the only position compatible with such a provision. Additionally, two Council of Europe instruments had addressed detention pending deportation and refrained from imposing time limits (see Twenty Guidelines on Forced Return, 2005 and Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1707 on the detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Europe, 2010).

The ECtHR held that Article 5(1)(f) does not require states to establish time-limits for detention pending deportation. The UK has sufficient procedures to allow the lawfulness of detention to be tested. Accordingly, the failure of the UK system to establish such limits, in light of the other procedural safeguards against arbitrariness, was not in violation of Article 5(1).

Lack of automatic judicial review of immigration detention (paras. 94-96)

The ECtHR refused the applicant’s submissions that Article 5(1)(f) required automatic judicial scrutiny of immigration detention. Article 5(4) provides all individuals who have been detained or had their liberty deprived with a right to take proceedings to examine the lawfulness of the detention. An entitlement to take proceedings, as opposed to automatic review, is all that is required by Article 5.

Was J.N.’s detention in accordance with Article 5? (paras. 102-108)

Finally, the ECtHR considered whether J.N.’s second period of detention, from 14 January 2008 to 14 September 2009 (the date on which the domestic court ruled that the detention had become unlawful) was in compliance with Article 5(1)(f) (for the reasons for restricting the scope of review to this period see paras.48-57)

The ECtHR saw no justification for the domestic courts to have restricted the “unlawful detention” to the period following 14 September 2009. Despite the repeated refusal of J.N. to cooperate, this could not be “be seen as a ‘trump card’ capable of justifying any period of detention” (para. 106). The ECtHR considered that the authorities had shown, to use the language of the domestic court, a “woeful lack of energy and impetus” from mid-2008 onwards. As a result, the detention had not been pursued with “reasonable diligence and expedition” from mid-2008 and therefore was not in accordance with domestic law and the principles established in Hardial Singh.

Accordingly, the detention from mid-2008 to 14 September 2009 was in violation of Article 5(1).

Comment

Despite concerns as to the unlimited nature of detention pending deportation being generally raised by a number of UN and European human rights bodies, as well as specific recommendations for the UK to adopt such limits (see UN Human Rights Committee, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and a UK All Party Parliamentary Group), the ECtHR refused to recognise that such limits were required by Article 5.

Undoubtedly the EU Returns Directive has resulted in the majority of Council of Europe states having limits for such detention. But as argued by the Government, recognising that Article 5 imposed such time limits may have “subvert[ed] the democratic process” by imposing time limits modelled on the EU Returns Directive from which the UK had lawfully opted out (para. 66).

During parliamentary scrutiny of the recent Immigration Act 2016 (which received Royal Assent on 12 May 2016) amendments were proposed by the House of Lords to limit immigration detention to 28 days  – it should be noted that this would not have covered J.N.’s situation as it was not applicable in the event that the Secretary of State had made a deportation order – see para. 84 here). However, this amendment was rejected. In the final version of the Immigration Act a duty to arrange consideration of bail is placed upon the Secretary of State for all individuals detained pending deportation (which would cover J.N.) after four months (Sch. 10, para. 11, Immigration Act 2016). This would clearly act as a further, important safeguard against arbitrariness.