Home Secretary Priti Patel pledged a ‘fair but firm’ overhaul of the UK’s asylum system in the Commons on Thursday. The proposed measures aim to crack down on the criminal smuggling operations which helped 8,000 people cross the Channel by boat last year.
Under the Home Secretary’s proposals, asylum seekers would have their claims determined according to how they arrived in the UK. Those using ‘safe and legal resettlement routes’ directly from the countries they are fleeing, such as Syria and Iran, would obtain automatic permission to remain in the UK indefinitely. But anyone arriving with the aid of services offered by criminal smuggling gangs would only ever receive temporary permission to remain and would be regularly assessed for removal from the UK.
The Home Secretary declared that such a regime would deter prospective asylum seekers from using the EU countries in which they first arrive as springboards for reaching the UK, and encourage them to make claims there instead.
A number of legal developments put free speech under the spotlight this week.
First, media commentators disputed the significance of the Duchess of Sussex’s successful privacy claim against Associated Newspaper Limited, covered in last week’s round-up. A leader in The Times issued the grave warning that ‘Mr Justice Warby’s judgment creates a precedent that will have a chilling effect on the media,’ not least ‘given that what was at stake…were issues that affect society as whole’. Some media lawyers took a dim view of such alarm, suggesting there was little to be surprised at in Warby J’s carefully reasoned conclusion that no legitimate public interest was to be found in publishing the intimate contents of a daughter’s letter to her father.
Then came Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s announcement of a proposed free speech law targeting universities, designed to reverse ‘the chilling effect on campuses of unacceptable silencing and censoring’. Its reception was mixed to say the least. The scheme would impose a statutory free speech duty on universities and student unions, enabling ‘no-platformed’ academics, students and visiting speakers to sue for compensation. Potential infringements would be investigated by a mandated ‘free speech champion’, empowered to recommend various forms of redress. While many academics welcomed the basic principles behind the proposal, others complained that it fomented “phantom fears” of a “cancel culture” crisis.
Last week’s round-up looked at the measures and messaging of the UK’s latest lockdown. This week we ask what it means for vulnerable children and victims of domestic abuse. Are sufficient legal safeguards in place?
For vulnerable children, it unfortunately seems not. On Wednesday, a Guardian investigation revealed that thousands of children were sent to unregulated care homes last year, while local authority provisions were stretched throughout many months of restrictions. These homes include supported accommodation facilities for over 16s, which are not subject to any inspections by regulators in England and Wales. The Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield has warned that the children’s care system has been ‘left to slip deeper into crisis, seemingly unable to stop some of the most vulnerable children from falling through the gaps.’
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