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).


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

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.


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).


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.

Unlimited Immigration Detention and the Right to Liberty – the Round-up

Photo credit: RT

In the news

The absence of fixed time limits in the UK system of immigration detention does not breach Article 5 of the Convention (the right to liberty), according to a recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights in JN v United Kingdom.

The applicant was an Iranian national who was refused asylum in the UK and issued with a deportation order. He was detained in an immigration removal centre for more than four and a half years, following completion of a custodial sentence for indecent assault. The applicant complained that in the absence of fixed time limits, domestic law was unclear and did not produce foreseeable consequences for individuals.

This argument was rejected by the Court, which re-iterated that Article 5 does not lay down maximum time limits for detention pending deportation. The issue was said to be whether domestic law contained sufficient procedural safeguards against arbitrariness, and in this regard the UK did not fall short of Convention requirements. However, the Court did find that between January 2008 and September 2009 deportation of the applicant had not been pursued with “due diligence”, and his detention during this period was therefore in breach of his right to liberty.

The decision will come as a disappointment to campaigners, who point out that the UK is the only EU Member State which places no time limit on the detention of foreign nationals. According to the UNHCR, detention can have “a lasting, detrimental impact on the mental and physical health of asylum seekers”, and both a cross-party Parliamentary Inquiry and a recent report of the UN Human Rights Committee have called on the UK to adopt an upper limit.

It remains open to the Government to do so. However, in light of the judgment in JN, the introduction of a statutory time limit would now appear unlikely. A spokeswoman told the Guardian that the Home Office were pleased with the outcome of the case: “We maintain that our immigration detention system is firm but fair”.

In other news

The Queen’s Speech has declared that “proposals will be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights” – wording that is near identical to last year’s commitment to ‘bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Policy Director at Liberty, Bella Sankey remarks that if this “felt like groundhog day, it was because little progress has been made” towards the scrapping of the Human Rights Act. UKHRB founder Adam Wagner provides a useful list of reactions and coverage here.

A report from the European Commission points to evidence that “the migration crisis has been exploited by criminal networks involved in trafficking in human beings”, who target the most vulnerable. According to official figures, in 2013-2014 there were 15,846 registered victims of trafficking in the EU, although the true number is considered to be “substantially higher”. The BBC reports on the findings.

The Supreme Court has upheld an interim injunction in the ‘celebrity threesome’ case, until after the full trial for invasion of privacy. The Court of Appeal had been wrong to enhance the weight attached to freedom of expression (article 10 ECHR) as compared with the right to respect for privacy (article 8 ECHR) – neither article had preference over the other in the balancing exercise. David Hart QC provides an analysis of the decision for the UKHRB – a summary of the main points can be found on RightsInfo

In the courts

The applicants were Hungarian nationals and members of parliament, who had been issued with fines for engaging in protests that were disruptive of parliamentary proceedings. They complained that this had violated their right to freedom of expression (article 10 ECHR).

The Court observed that Parliaments were entitled to react when their members engaged in disorderly conduct disrupting the normal functioning of the legislature. However, on the present facts domestic legislation had not provided for any possibility for the MPs concerned to be involved in the relevant disciplinary procedure. The interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of expression was therefore not proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued, because it was not accompanied by adequate procedural safeguards. Accordingly, the Court found a violation of Article 10.

The applicant’s husband had died in circumstances where there had been a negligent failure to diagnose meningitis shortly after (successful) nasal polyp surgery, although that negligent failure was not necessarily causative. In its Chamber judgment of 15 December 2015, the European Court of Human Rights held that there had been a violation of Article 2 (right to life) of the Convention as to the right to life and, unanimously, that there had been a violation of Article 2.

Analysis of that decision is provided by Jeremy Hyam QC for the UK HRB. On 2 May 2016 the Grand Chamber Panel accepted the Portuguese Government’s request that the case be referred to the Grand Chamber.


Those in need of some summer reading might consider: Five Ideas to Fight For, by Anthony Lester, recently published. The book describes the development of English law in relation to human rights, equality, free speech, privacy and the rule of law, explaining how our freedom is under threat and why it matters.

UK HRB posts

CA says ex-pats cannot say yes or no to Brexit – David Hart QC

The British Bill of Rights Show: Series 14, Episode 9…*Zzzzzzz* – Adam Wagner

Three Way in the Supreme Court: PJS remains PJS – David Hart QC

The National Preventive Mechanism of the United Kingdom – John Wadham

Bank Mellat’s $4bn claim: CA rules out one element, but the rest to play for – David Hart QC

Court of Appeal: immigration age assessments and Merton

Two recent Court of Appeal cases, heard together, have considered the legality of the immigration detention of those who are, or possibly are, minors. Such cases involve local authority age assessments, which are to be carried out according to the guidance set out in Merton [2003] EWHC 1689 (Admin). Continue reading

MoJ signals interest in specialist courts – the Round-up

Lady Justice above the Old Bailey in London

Photo credit: The Guardian

In the news

The Ministry of Justice has signalled an interest in the potential of specialist courts for cases of domestic abuse. It has been considering a report published last week by the Centre for Justice Innovation, which recommends an integrated approach whereby criminal, family and civil matters would be heard under a ‘one judge, one family’ model.

The report highlights evidence from the United States, Australia and New Zealand that integrated courts increase convictions and witness participation, lower re-offending, enforce protection orders more effectively and reduce case processing time. Victims would no longer find themselves “jumping from forum to forum” to resolve matters that are “all facets of the same underlying issue.”

Specialist domestic abuse courts could moreover use post-sentence judicial monitoring of perpetrators, and place a greater emphasis on the rehabilitation of offenders. In a speech to the Magistrates’ Association, justice secretary Michael Gove said he had been “impressed” by the potential of problem-solving courts during a recent visit to the US, and was “keen to look more” at what could be done in this area.

However, the proposals under examination are unlikely to allay fears that government cuts are putting women at risk. Under the ECHR, domestic authorities have a duty to “establish and apply effectively a system by which all forms of domestic violence [can] be punished,” and ensure “sufficient safeguards” are provided for the victims [Opuz v Turkey].

Yet current safeguards are under considerable strain, with domestic abuse incidents reported to the police having increased by 34% since 2007/2008. Campaigners warn that austerity measures, which have led to Portsmouth City Council recently announcing a “sizeable reduction” of £180,000 to its domestic abuse service, are likely to put further pressure on authorities already at breaking point.

Other news

  • Daily Telegraph: The Government has announced plans to establish an improved help-line for victims of modern slavery, which will be set up with a £1 million contribution from Google. The service will be modelled on a similar helpline in the US, which provides advice to people who have been subjected to forced labour or servitude, and collates data to combat human trafficking.
  • The Guardian: Health inspectors from the Care Quality Commission have issued a report critical of the wide variations of treatment received by people detained under the Mental Health Act. The inspectors found no evidence of patients’ views being considered in a quarter of the care plans examined, which Deputy Chief Inspector Dr Paul Lelliott said could “hinder their recovery, and lead to potential breaches in meeting their human rights.”
  • BBC: A High Court judge has ruled Lord Janner unfit to plead, with the result that the former politician will not stand trial over allegations of indecent assault and sexual abuse. Mr Justice Openshaw found that the 87-year-old peer had “advanced and disabling dementia that has deteriorated and is irreversible”. A “trial of the facts” is scheduled to take place next April.
  • Civic institutions, laws and practices need to better reflect the UK’s less religious, more diverse society, according to a report by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life. The Commission, led by former High Court judge, Baroness Butler-Sloss, has suggested that schools should no longer face a legal requirement to provide daily acts of worship of a Christian character, and has pointed to a number of “negative practical consequences” of selection by religion in faith schools. The Guardian reports.

 In the courts

The case concerned the complaints of seven Lithuanian nationals that the conditions of their detention in various correctional facilities had fallen short of standards compatible with article 3 of the Convention. In particular, it was submitted that they were held in overcrowded dormitory-type rooms. Some of the applicants further maintained that they were detained in conditions that violated basic hygiene requirements, and that they lacked access to appropriate sanitary facilities.

The Court found that the compensatory remedies made available by the Lithuanian authorities had been insufficient. It held that there had been a violation of article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect of four of the applicants, and made awards of pecuniary compensation accordingly.

This case concerned the asylum applications of two Afghan nationals who married in a religious ceremony in Iran when ZH had been 14-years old. The Swiss authorities did not deem the couple to be legally married, and considered their applications separately, resulting in the removal of RH to Italy after the rejection of his appeal. The applicants alleged that the expulsion of RH amounted to a breach of article 8 ECHR (the right to family life).

The Court held that article 8 of the Convention could not be interpreted as imposing on a member state an obligation to recognise a marriage contracted by a child, in view of article 12 (right to marry) which expressly provided for regulation of marriage by national law. At the time of the removal of RH to Italy, the Swiss authorities had been justified in considering that the applicants were not married. The Court therefore found no violation of article 8.


If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email the details to Jim Duffy, at

Prison law failing trans people: the Round-up


In the news

LGBT campaigners have called for an urgent reform of the law, following the death of 21 year-old transgender woman Vicky Thompson in an all-male prison. Ms Thompson had previously said that she would take her own life if she were placed in a prison for men.

The system of locating transgender people within the prison estate has recently come into criticism after transgender woman Tara Hudson was placed at HMP Bristol, an all-male establishment. Ms Hudson spoke of being sexually harassed by other prisoners, before a petition signed by more than 150,000 people led to her eventual transfer to a women’s prison. Statistics from the US suggest that transgender women in male prisons are 13 times more likely than the general prison population to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated.

Under the current rules, in most cases prisoners must be located “according to their gender as recognised under UK law”, although the guidance allows discretion where the individual is “sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process.” But the case of Vicky Thompson has been said to show that “the law is simply not working. For people living for years as women to be sent to serve sentences in prisons for men is inviting disaster.”

Responding to a question on the issue, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Andrew Selous has stated that the government intends to implement “revised policy guidance… in due course.”

In other news:

  • The Guardian: The Metropolitan Police has issued an unreserved apology and paid substantial compensation to women who were deceived into forming long-term intimate sexual relationships with undercover police officers. The police force acknowledged that the relationships had been “a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma.”
  • BBC: Members of the public and journalists will be permitted to attend the majority of hearings in the Court of Protection, where issues affecting sick or vulnerable people are heard. The new pilot scheme is intended to provide greater transparency, whilst safeguarding the privacy of the people involved.
  • MPs on the justice select committee have called for the scrapping of the criminal courts charge, voicing “grave misgivings” about whether it is “compatible with the principles of justice.” The charge of up to £1,200 is imposed on convicted criminals, and is not means-tested. In its report, the parliamentary committee expressed concern that the charge, which is higher for those convicted after pleading not guilty, was creating “perverse incentives” affecting defendant behaviour. The BBC reports here.
  • The Legal Voice: The Ministry of Justice has announced that the introduction of duty provider contracts will be postponed until 1 April 2016. A number of legal proceedings have been issued, challenging the legitimacy of the procurement process. The decision has been welcomed by the Bar Council, which has consistently opposed measures it claims would “damage access to justice and the provision of high quality advocacy services.”
  • BBC: A couple from north west London have been found guilty of keeping a man enslaved in their home for 24 years, in “a shocking case of modern slavery.” The couple had “total psychological control” over their victim, threatening that if he left the house he would be arrested by police as an illegal immigrant.

In the courts

The Court found that a family of asylum seekers evicted from an accommodation centre had been exposed to degrading treatment, in violation of their rights under article 3 ECHR. The family had been left in conditions of extreme poverty, without basic means of subsistence for a period of four weeks. The Belgian authorities had not paid due consideration to the vulnerability of the applicants, who had small children including a seriously disabled daughter.

UK HRB posts

Best interests, hard choices: The Baby C case – Leanne Woods


If you would like your event to be mentioned on the Blog, please email the details to Jim Duffy, at

Release of Shaker Aamer, but UK authorities face difficult questions – the Round-up

In the news

Following almost fourteen years of detention without trial, the last British resident to be held in Guantanamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, has been released. Amnesty International has described Aamer’s plight as “one of the worst of all the detainees at Guantanamo,” given the time involved, the lengthy spells in solitary confinement and the torture he was allegedly subjected to.

“The case against the US authorities that perpetrated this travesty of justice, and British ministers and security personnel who allegedly colluded with them, should now be vigorously pursued”, writes the Observer. Long-standing questions remain surrounding claims of UK complicity in human rights abuses: in the 2009 civil case of former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, the High Court pointedly noted that the UK’s relationship with US authorities went “far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing.” Continue reading