The High Court today ruled the Government is wrongly interpreting the law in denying food and shelter to many destitute asylum seekers and that the Home Office must restore such basic living needs to the asylum seekers involved in the judicial review until an appeal against today’s judgment is heard.
The Refugee Council and organisations involved in the legal action, including the Refugee Legal Centre and Clore & Co, have welcomed this morning’s decision.
Margaret Lally, acting Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“When the legislation was being passed through Parliament, the Government did not say that new arrivals would be left to sleep rough, reliant on food parcels and blankets to help them through the winter. Yet this is precisely what is happening and everyday asylum seekers are arriving at our doors freezing cold, hungry, exhausted and confused.
“MPs and Peers were told that the Home Office would operate this policy reasonably. Yet we are witnessing ludicrous decisions in which people have made their asylum claims within 24 hours of arrival being turned away with nothing and with no right to appeal this decision on their eligibility for support. Today’s decision confirms our view that the implementation of section 55 has been unreasonable and unjustifiable.”
A spokesperson for the Refugee Legal Centre said:
“Denial of support is leaving many asylum seekers without a roof over their head and without any money to feed themselves. Since they are prevented from working to support themselves, many without family or friends in this country are being left destitute.
“The Refugee Legal Centre is therefore pleased that the High Court has granted the applications for judicial review. We have been very concerned with the welfare of clients who have been left destitute.”
Jerry Clore of Clore & Co said
“This judgment is the inevitable conclusion of the way in which this law has been interpreted since 8 January. In the past few weeks I have seen individuals subjected to the most appalling levels of destitution. I am relieved that the High Court has stepped in once again to prevent the erosion of a very basic human right – the right to food and shelter.”
During the passage of the Act, ministers had assured Parliament that the measure would be carefully targeted and implemented reasonably. The Home Secretary told MPs:
“We need to be reasonable and to take into account the trauma that people experience. We need therefore to allow a reasonable period before we presume that people have come into the country for another reason ” [5 November 2002, col. 199]
Many of the Hon. Justice Collins’s criticisms of the new arrangements were also expressed by an influential cross-party committee of MPs and Peers during the passage of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, in its two reports on the Act, made a number of serious criticisms and highlighted areas of possible human rights breaches. In particular, the Committee concluded that:
“…it is difficult to envisage a case where a person could be destitute without there being a threat of a violation of Articles 3 and/or 8 of the ECHR. We reiterate that the Secretary of State has a duty under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to avoid that risk.” [JCHR Twenty-third Report, para. 15]
The Committee was also critical of the lack of safeguards, including the lack of a right of appeal to an Asylum Support Adjudicator.
A coalition of human rights, refugee and homelessness NGOs, including Shelter and Crisis, issued a joint statement on the day Section 55 was implemented describing it as a ‘retrograde’ step. The statement also said, “Withdrawing food and shelter from in-country asylum applicants will at a stroke show that nothing has been learnt from two of the biggest public policy failures in recent years – the voucher system and the implementation of a similar measure in 1996.”
Notes to Editors
On 21 October 2002, in a written answer to a parliamentary question, Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes admitted that 65 per cent of people receiving positive decisions had made in-country asylum claims [21 Oct 02, Column 94W].
A list of ministerial assurances made during the passage of the legislation is available on request.
In 1996, the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) – the main UK advisory body on Social Security – held that there are many valid reasons why people do not make their asylum claims immediately on arrival. These include lack of knowledge of the process, language difficulties and fear of officialdom. [SSAC report: (Social Security (Persons from Abroad) Miscellaneous) Amendment Regulations 1996; CM 3062, Paragraph 38)].
Read the twenty-third report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights
Read the Refugee Legal Centre’s press release on the ruling
Read Liberty’s response to the ruling
Read the BBC’s report on today’s judgment
Download the judgment.
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