This decision, handed down by Swift J in the High Court, concerns the requirements for fairness in local authority age assessments for asylum seekers and the correct approach to be adopted.
The claimant, a Sudanese national, arrived in the UK on 21 May 2021 and made an application for asylum, claiming to be 17 years old. The local authority did not believe the claimant to be a child and assessed him to be 23 years old. The claimant was provided with initial accommodation in the area of the local authority. Social workers employed by the local council also assessed the claimant as being 23 years old. The claimant’s legal representatives on two occasions complained about the local authority’s decision, firstly levelling several criticisms of the way the age assessment process had been conducted and then enclosing additional evidence in respect of the claimant’s age and requesting a reconsideration, which the local authority rejected.
The question of how to determine whether or not the deportation of a foreign national convicted of criminal offending is a disproportionate interference in the family life that they may share with their partner or child has been explored in a series of cases, including the leading decisions of KO (Nigeria) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKSC 53 and HA (Iraq)  EWCA Civ 1176 and has been discussed in detail on this blog here, here and here.
‘A bleak, poorly staffed, highly charged and toxic environment.’ (Callum Tulley)
The Brook House inquiry has recently concluded its first phase of hearings which took place between November 23 and December 10, 2021 at the International Dispute Resolution Centre (IDRC). Brook House is an Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) beside Gatwick Airport, originally managed by the private security company G4S. The inquiry was set up to investigate the actions and circumstances surrounding the ‘mistreatment’ of male detainees at Brook House between April 1 to August 31 2017, and specifically, examining whether the treatment experienced was contrary to Article 3 ECHR (the right not to be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment). This followed the damning footage filmed by an undercover reporter in Brook House during the ‘relevant period’, and broadcast on the BBC Panorama Programme ‘Undercover: Britain’s Immigration Secrets’ which aired on September 4, 2017.
Callum Tulley was employed by Brook House from January 2015 as a detention custody officer. In this role he witnessed the disturbing culture and conduct of employees there and raised these concerns by email to the BBC Panorama team in January 2016. After a 14– month period providing intelligence and completing specialist training, Tulley began to secretly film 109 hours of footage over a three-month period – the contents of which exposed the degrading treatment of detainees by employees.
In 2015, the Court of Appeal found that the fast-track procedure rules for appeals against the refusal of some types of asylum claim (the FTR) was “structurally unfair, unjust and ultra vires” (R (Detention Action) v First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber)  EWCA Civ 840;  1 WLR 5341, known as DA6). The Court of Appeal quashed the FTR because this structural unfairness “created a risk that the applicants would have inadequate time to obtain advice, marshall their evidence and properly present their cases”, which “created an unacceptable risk of unfairness in a significant number of cases”.
Six years later, the question in R (on the application of TN (Vietnam)) v Secretary of State for the Home Department UKSC 41 was straightforward: where a decision had been taken under the FTR, should it also be quashed, or must the person who was subject to the decision demonstrate that the decision itself was unfair, rather than merely issuing from an unfair system?
The High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court all answered unequivocally that structural unfairness was not enough to quash an individual decision. Unfairness on the facts had to be found, or the decision would stand.
Background and Decisions Below
TN had, as the court acknowledged, a complicated procedural history, involving a number of applications for asylum, all of which (of those which had been determined at the time of trial) had been rejected. In hearings in those applications, TN had been represented by counsel. However, successive decisionmakers found TN’s claim not to be credible, and on 22 August 2014, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) rejected her appeal. It was this rejection, decided as it was by a tribunal following the procedural rules in the FTR, which TN sought to challenge in this case.
One reason TN’s evidence was not believed was that it was inconsistent, giving different dates at different times for her mother’s death, and changing the basis of her application for asylum without explaining fully the reasons for the changes. This raised a question plainly discussed, but in the end not legally consequential, of the approach taken to evidence of trafficking, given that trafficking victims frequently change their stories, partly because they will often not know (in terms) that this is what they are (see paragraphs -).
In a detailed judgment, Ouseley J rejected TN’s application, upholding the Tribunal’s decision. His judgment involved a detailed review of the history of TN’s case, after which he concluded that the Tribunal’s decision was not tainted by the structural unfairness of the FTR.
In the Court of Appeal, Singh LJ gave the leading judgment (with whom Sharp and Peter Jackson LLJ agreed), holding that the “fundamental reason” that the application had to fail was that there was “a conceptual distinction between holding that the procedural rules were ultra vires and the question whether the procedure in an individual appeal decision was unfair”.
The legal lens through which this fundamental conceptual distinction found expression was the principle of jurisdiction. Singh LJ considered two bases on which the FTT could fail to have jurisdiction, rejecting both. First, he held that the ultra vires nature of the FTR did not divest the FTT of jurisdiction in the “pure and narrow sense” of having “the legal authority to decide a question”. The Tribunal’s jurisdiction was not created by the FTR but rather by statute; the FTR was “merely a rule which regulates procedure and form”.
The second basis on which the Tribunal might have lost jurisdiction was in the “post-Anisminic understanding of jurisdiction … that a body has acted in a way which is unlawful, including (for this purpose) in a way which is procedurally unfair”. This too was rejected: the Tribunal had not acted in such a way; even though the FTR had created a structural risk that it might, that risk had not eventuated.
Singh LJ went on to set out four factors which the court should take into account when the fairness of an individual decision made under the FTR was challenged on the basis of unfairness. These were, paraphrasing: (1) a high degree of fairness is required in the context of asylum applications; (2) the FTR created an unacceptable risk of unfairness in a significant number of cases; (3) there is no presumption that the procedure in any one case was fair or unfair and what is necessary is a causal link between the risk of unfairness created by the FTR and what happened in a particular case; and (4) the finality of litigation is important, and as such delay is relevant, as are questions as to what steps were taken, and how quickly, to adduce evidence later relied on.
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  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  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  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
Last week, the Supreme Court considered an interesting interplay between two competing obligations of the state: on the one hand, the duty expeditiously to return a wrongfully removed or retained child to his home jurisdiction under the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“the 1980 Hague Convention”); on the other, the principle that refugees should not be refouled, meaning expelled or returned to a country where they have a well-founded fear of persecution.
The parties to G (Appellant) v G (Respondent)  UKSC 9are the divorced parents of an eight-year-old girl (“G”). G was born in South Africa, and was habitually resident until G’s mother wrongfully removed her to England, in breach of G’s father’s custody rights. G’s mother fled South Africa when, after separating from G’s father and coming out as a lesbian, her family subjected her to death threats and violence. On her arrival in England, she applied for asylum and listed G as a dependant on her asylum application.
G’s father applied for an order under the 1980 Hague Convention for G’s return to South Africa. At first instance, Lieven J held the application should be stayed pending the determination of G’s mother’s asylum claim. The Court of Appeal considered that the High Court was not barred from determining the father’s application or making an order for expeditious return
There is a long history of crossover between lawyers and politicians; more members of parliament come from the law than almost any other profession. But the relationship – never totally tranquil – has become more strained in recent years.
In response to a legal challenge brought by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), the Home Office has scrapped an algorithm used for sorting visa applications. Represented by Foxglove, a legal non-profit specialising in data privacy law, JCWI launched judicial review proceedings,, arguing that the algorithmic tool was unlawful on the grounds that it was discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010 and irrational under common law.
In a letter to Foxglove from 3rd August on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD), the Government Legal Department stated that it would stop using the algorithm, known as the “streaming tool”, “pending a redesign of the process and way in which visa applications are allocated for decision making”. The Department denied that the tool was discriminatory. During the redesign, visa application decisions would be made “by reference to person-centric attributes… and nationality will not be taken into account”.
This afternoon, health secretary Matt Hancock made a statement in the Commons updating the house on the government’s response to the crisis.
The health secretary announced that anyone in the UK aged five and over who has coronavirus symptoms will be eligible for a test. From today, recognised symptoms include the loss of smell and taste, as well a persistent cough and a high temperature. Hancock confirmed for the first time that the government has recruited over 21,000 contact tracers, including 7,500 health care professionals, to manually trace and get in contact with anyone who has tested positive.
In addition, he offered a degree of clarification in relation to the government’s new contact tracing app. The function of the app is to alert people of the need to self-isolate if they have come into proximity with an individual who reported coronavirus symptoms.
Faced with mounting criticism of his reluctance to impose restrictions on British society in the face of the Covid-19 crisis, this evening Boris Johnson ratcheted up Britain’s response by announcing a strict lockdown across the country. His address to the nation is available in full here.
Ilias v Hungary (Application no. 47287/15) was the first case in which the ECtHR considered a land border transit zone between two member states of the Council of Europe, where the host state, Hungary, was also a member of the EU and had applied the safe third country rule under the EU asylum regime. The Grand Chamber held that the applicants’ detention did not breach Article 5 (the right to liberty and security of the person).
The applicants, Mr Ilias and Mr Ahmed, were both Bangladeshi nationals who had left Bangladesh at different times and in differing circumstances. They met in Greece and then traveled together to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, then to Serbia, and then to Hungary. On 15 September 2015 they arrived in Hungary and entered the border transit zone at Röszke. They submitted asylum requests on the same day. Within several hours their requests were rejected as being inadmissible and they were ordered to be expelled from Hungary back to Serbia as a safe third country. The applicants then spent 23 days in the transit zone whilst they appealed this decision. On 8 October 2015, following a final decision of the Hungarian courts which rejected their applications for asylum and ordered the applicants’ expulsion, Mr Ilias and Mr Ahmed were escorted out of the transit zone and crossed the border back into Serbia.
Demonstrators protest government deportation flights outside Downing Street. Credit: The Guardian.
The last week provided no shortage of legal controversy, and posed the author of this blog considerable difficulty when trying to identify which developments deserved the most prominence. In analysing this avalanche of legal news, however, certain key themes started to develop.
When she was fifteen Shamina Begum slipped unimpeded out of the country to join ISIL. Only her image, walking with two school friends, was captured as she made her way through Gatwick Airport onto the aircraft. Her return to the UK, five years on is proving more difficult.
After the collapse of ISIL’s stronghold in Raqqa, Ms Begum appeared, heavily pregnant, in a camp in northern Syria, held by the Syrian Democratic Forces. In an interview she said she wanted to return but did not regret having gone to Syria.
On 19 February 2019, the Secretary of State, Mr Javid, informed Ms Begum’s family he considered she posed a threat to national security and issued an order depriving her of her nationality.
As was her right, Ms Begum issued an appeal against the deprivation order to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). Permission to enter the UK to pursue the appeal was refused by the Secretary of State.
Harry Dunn’s family after meeting with the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, last week. Photograph: Credit: The Guardian, Peter Summers/Getty Images.
The usually obscure concept of diplomatic immunity came to the fore this week after it emerged that the wife of an American diplomat was wanted for questioning in connection with the death of a motorcyclist in Northamptonshire. Anne Sacoolas was spoken to by police after a collision with Harry Dunn in which he was killed whilst riding his motorbike, prior to her return to the United States.
Article 31 of the 1961 Vienna Convention grants immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state to diplomats, a feature extended to their family members by article 37. However, both the United Kingdom and the United States were this weekend reported as having agreed that diplomatic immunity was no longer “pertinent” in the case of Mrs Sacoolas. This raised the possibility of the UK seeking her extradition, despite President Trump being photographed this week with a briefing card stating that she would not be returning to Britain.
Meanwhile, the country’s attention turned back towards Brexit, with the week ahead promising to, in the Prime Minister’s words, be “do or die” for the prospects of a negotiated deal. At the beginning of the week it was widely reported that talks had faltered, with Downing St leaks suggesting a deal was “essentially impossible”. However, the mood surrounding negotiations changed significantly on Thursday, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar describing the emergence of a “pathway” to a deal following his meeting with Boris Johnson. Continue reading →
This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.