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Housing migrants at Napier barracks unlawful, High Court rules

Published:

Re: R (NB) v SSHD [2021] EWHC 1489 (Admin)

This case analyses Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (“IAA 1999”) which requires the Defendant to provide “support” to asylum seekers who appear to be destitute or to be likely to become destitute. The six Claimants are all asylum seekers who were transferred to the Penally and Napier military barracks (“The Barracks”) from accommodation in hotels.  All of them had experienced people trafficking and/or torture prior to their arrival in the United Kingdom and there is evidence in a number of their cases that they had pre-existing mental health issues as a result of their experiences.

The Barracks were known to be “basic and slightly run down” where residents would be required to sleep in dormitories with shared bathroom and toilet facilities. Furthermore, nearly 200 people contracted coronavirus during an outbreak at the Barracks earlier this year. The Defendant introduced suitability assessment criteria which were intended to be used to identify asylum seekers who should not be accommodated there because of their particular circumstances, including their mental or physical health and other vulnerabilities arising from experiences before coming to the United Kingdom.

The Claimants advance four grounds of challenge against the Defendant’s decision to place them inthe Barracks. They allege that:

  1. The accommodation at the Barracks did not and does not comply with section 96 IAA 1999 read with Directive 2013/9/EC, which sets out “minimum standards” for reception of asylum.
  2. The process for applying the Defendant’s criteria for selecting people to be accommodated at the Barracks was and is flawed and unlawful, based largely on section 149 of the Equality Act 2010
  3. Accommodating the Claimants at the Barracks, and the conditions to which they were subject whilst there, breached their rights under Articles 2, 3 and/or 8 of Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998 contrary to section 6 and 7 of that Act.
  4. There were periods during which the restrictions on the Claimants’ movement amounted to false imprisonment at common law and/or breach of Article 5 of Schedule 1 to the HRA 1998 e.g. 10pm – 6am curfew.

The Claimants seek various forms of declaratory relief, and damages for breach of their human rights and false imprisonment.

 

Held: the court allows the Claims on Grounds 1 and 2 and in part on Ground 4. The other Grounds and claims are dismissed. The parties should seek to agree appropriate declarations and directions for the quantification of damages.

The Barracks was not suitable for asylum seekers who fail the tests in her suitability criteria discussed in relation to Ground 2 below, i.e. who have vulnerabilities related to their history and/or their physical or mental health.  The system which the Defendant operated when they were transferred to the Barracks, and whilst they were there, fell below the fairly low standard required by the application of the Tameside principle. It was not sufficient simply to put suitability criteria in place; there also had to be a reasonable system for gathering the information to which those criteria would be applied.

The 10pm-6am curfew was not considered by the court to be a rule which was enforced by the sanction of being treated as an absconder; on the evidence, it was an expectation which might lead to sanctions if there was reason to believe that the resident had absconded. The claim at common law under Article 5 is rejected.  However, a letter on 15th January instructing the residents not to leave the Barracks under any circumstances did not constitute valid notification of the duty to self-isolate under penalty of law and therefore this part of the claim was allowed under Article 5.

 

Zoe Leventhal was involved in this case.

 

Please find press summary here.