High Court orders inquiry into Brook House abuse must be effective under ECHR, art 3


Re: MA & BB v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2019] EWHC 1523 (Admin)

This matter arose following the airing of a Panorama documentary in 2017 showing footage secretly recorded by a Detention Officer in immigration detention centre Brook House in which officers were seen verbally and physically abusing detainees.

The claimants initially brought an action challenging the failure of the defendant to order an investigation in compliance with his duty under ECHR, art 3. The defendant subsequently asked the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) to conduct a bespoke Special Investigation into the matters raised by the Panorama programme. However, this investigation had no powers to compel witness or hold public hearings, and there was no properly funded representation for the claimants.

As such, the court found in favour of the claimants. The court considered that, due to the real risk that former G4S staff would not attend the investigation voluntarily to give evidence, and that this would result in the investigation not being effective under art 3, the PPO must have power to compel witness attendance. It also determined that, to secure full accountability and to protect the claimants’ interests, the PPO must have the power and funding to order when hearings ought to be in public. Finally, the court concluded that the claimants must be afforded properly-funded representation to enable them to review and comment on witness evidence and to direct lines of enquiry for the PPO.

Nick Armstrong and Dan Squires QC were involved in this case.