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Parliamentary Ombudsman to officially investigate HCP complaint against Home Office

 

Today the HCP received a response to our complaint regarding the Home Office’s refusal to grant six of our volunteer lawyers entry to Yarl’s Wood IRC in November 2015.

The Home Office eventually replied after an unacceptably long response time (175 days when they aim for 20 working days). They acknowledged they were wrong to block the legal visits, but did not agree that they should compensate the HCP and its clients for the waste of time and money incurred by their unlawful actions.

The complaint has since escalated to Parliament, with local MP, Keir Starmer QC MP, writing to James Brokenshire MP, then Minister for Immigration. The HCP filed a complaint bundle with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and has been informed today that they are proposing to formally investigate the complaint.

The HCP’s primary intention is to improve the woefully inadequate provisions for access to justice within Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.  We therefore welcome the decision to commence a formal investigation and look forward to updates from the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Our Yarl's Wood complaint goes to Parliament

Today, the Habeas Corpus Project has filed a complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman through local MP, Keir Starmer QC MP. The complaint is regarding the unlawful and arbitrary prevention of six volunteer solicitors making a legal visit with detainees at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre on 26 November 2015. The Home Office Complaints Department has ignored our original complaint, and attempts to chase up a response three months later. They only responded after 175 days on 20 May 2016 when our local MP, Keir Starmer QC sought the intervention of James Brokenshire, Minister for Immigration. We are extremely dissatisfied with the response and seek remedies as well as a full apology for their delay and the unjustifiable interference with Detention Centre Rules.

Below is the six month late reponse to our complaint:

 

RESPONSE FROM THE HOME OFFICE:

Dear Mr Noor,

I was concerned to receive your complaint dated 27th November 2015 regarding an incident at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) on 26th November.

I have now completed my investigation into your complaint and am pleased to offer the following response.

However before I do so, may I take this opportunity to say how sorry I am that you felt the need to make a complaint and offer my sincere apologies for the delay in providing you with a substantive response. We aim to provide the highest standard of service and complaints are always treated seriously by the Home Office and are used as an opportunity to learn lessons and improve services.

The investigation into your complaint was carried out by me, Fiona Quaynor, Home Office Immigration Manager, and it involved reviewing the content of your complaint and interviewing staff involved to enable me to gain a clearer understanding of the allegations you have raised.

Your letter contained three key issues that I will deal with in the order that you have raised them.

Firstly, that, contrary to the requirements of Detention Services Order (DSO) 04/2012 Visitors and Visiting Procedures, 6 Habeas Corpus solicitors was denied entry for pre- booked legal visits with prospective clients.

Having carefully considered your complaint, I have concluded that the 6 visiting solicitors complied with the requirements of Detention Service Order 04/2012 and ought to have
been facilitated entry to the removal centre to carry out their interviews. I am sorry that entry was denied and I have substantiated this part of your complaint.

Secondly, you have stated that the staff that dealt with the solicitors behaved in a manner that was unacceptable.

The Home Office takes all complaints about the conduct of its staff very seriously and when standards of behaviour fall below those that are expected action that can include additional training and guidance may be taken.

I have interviewed the staff on duty who have both confirmed that they were conveying an instruction from a senior manager and although I have accepted that the instruction was incorrect, I have found no evidence that their behaviour was unacceptable. This part of your complaint is unsubstantiated.

Finally, you have stated that your organisation has incurred costs visiting Yarl’s Wood and you wish to claim damages.

I have investigated this element of your complaint and have been able to establish that although regrettably the solicitors were denied entry on arrival an alternative visit at 18.00hrs in the social visits area was offered and declined.
The information you provided in the matter of compensation has been carefully considered and I can advise that, other than to compensate you for reasonable travel expenses (at public transport rates), we are unable to provide you with any financial redress. This part of your complaint is partially substantiated.

I am sorry that my findings may be disappointing for you, but I hope you feel satisfied with the way in which your complaint has been investigated.

If you remain dissatisfied with the way your complaint has been handled, you may also appeal to the Prison and Probation Service Ombudsman (PPO) who is independent of the Home Office. You must do this within three months of receiving this letter. I have enclosed a leaflet which explains the process.

Yours sincerely

Fiona Quaynor

 

THE HCP RESPONSE TO THE HOME OFFICE:

1. Introduction

1.1 I am Ousman Noor, barrister and Director of the Habeas Corpus Project [‘HCP’], a law firm regulated by the Bar Standards Board to provide legal advice and representation to immigration detainees on a pro-bono basis. The HCP is a registered charity (ref: 1159689) and Ltd Company (ref: 09390086 ) registered at 78 Cromer Street, London, WC1H 8DR with email address at info@habeas-corpus.org.uk and telephone number 0203 490 0350. My personal address is 14 Edward Bond House, Cromer Street, London, WC1H 8DT.

1.2 This statement is made for the purpose of a complaint to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. I have made a request for Keir Starmer QC MP to make this referral on behalf of the Habeas Corpus Project as he is the Member of Parliament for Holborn & St Pancras which is where the HCP is based and also where I personally reside. He has previously assisted in this matter by referring the matter to James Brokenshire MP, Minister for Immigration.

1.3 I have set out below:

1.3.1 Chronology of events

1.3.2 Factual summary relating to incident on 26 November 2015

1.3.3 Details of complaint to the Home Office and Keir Starmer MP

1.3.4 Details of the remedy sought from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

2. Chronology of events

2.1 24 November 2015: HCP booked appointments by telephone with Yarl’s Wood IRC for legal interviews to be conducted between 13:30-15:30 on Thursday 26 November 2015. The interviews were booked for 6 detainees to take place with 6 qualified solicitors.

2.2 26 November 2015: The 6 solicitors booked transportation in order to take them to the centre leaving at 11:30 and arriving at 13:45. Upon checking in at reception and completing the Section 84 forms, they were denied access to the clients.

2.3 27 November 2015: The HCP wrote a letter of complaint to the Home Office (Ref No: 131000104112) regarding the illegal prevention of access to the 6 detainees, the unacceptable behaviour of staff and a claim for the costs incurred [Tab B]. An automated response was received stating that a substantive response would be provided within 20 days. [Tab C]
2.4 16 March 2016: Another letter was sent to the Home Office Complaints Department chasing a response to the complaint which was unanswered. [Tab D]

2.5 3 May 2016: An email was sent to Keir Starmer QC MP to seek his assistance in relation to the complaint. [Tab E]

2.6 4 May 2016: Letter sent from Keir Starmer QC MP to James Brokenshire MP Minister for Immigration. [Tab F]

2.7 20 May 2016: Response received from Fiona Quaynor, a Home Office Immigration Manager, who finally assessed the complaint. Despite concluding that our solicitors had complied with all the requirements and should have been given access, she refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing on behalf of the two members of staff and further refused our claim for compensation for the time incurred, only accepting to pay travel costs. The response suggests that ‘social visits’ were made available at 18:00 on 27 November 2015 as an alternative to legal visits. [Tab G]

3. Statement of Facts Relating to Incident on 26th November 2015

3.1 On 24 November 2015, the HCP made arrangements to conduct legal visits for 6 detainees at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre by 6 qualified solicitors. The 6 solicitors work at an international law firm based in the City of London and volunteer for the HCP. The visits were booked through the centre’s official booking telephone line to take place on 26 November 2015 from 13:30 to 14:30. Each detainee had sent the HCP various documents relating to their cases, seeking legal assistance to gain a clearer understanding of their rights in immigration detention. The names of the 6 detainees were:

  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>

3.2 On 25 November 2015, I conducted a briefing conference call with the solicitors at 14:30. Together, we discussed what tasks needed to be done during the visit, and what kind of questions we needed to ask during each interview. I emphasised that in order to comply with the rules for legal visits at Yarl’s Wood, they must bring their passport or driving licence and the letter of introduction from HCP.

3.3 On 26 November 2015, the solicitors left their central London office at about 11:30 in a private hire mini-bus which cost £350 to book. Due to traffic, they arrived at Yarl’s Wood at about 13:45.

3.4 On arrival the solicitors checked in at the Visitors’ Reception.
3.4.1 They presented their IDs and letters of introduction, which were checked by the receptionist.
3.4.2 They also had their photos taken by the receptionist.
3.4.3 They were asked to sign two forms by the receptionist.
3.4.3.1 The first form was for legal visitors and they filled it out explaining that they were lawyers volunteering for HCP on a pro bono basis. Because they were lawyers at a firm regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, but volunteering for an organisation regulated by the Bar Standards Board, it was not clear which sections of the form needed to be filled out. Once they had received definitive guidance from HCP by telephone, they were asked by the receptionist to redo the forms, which she retained.
3.4.3.2 The second form was to accompany their laptops that they were going to take into the interviews in order to record the answers and evidence provided by the detainees being visiting. On the receptionist’s instructions, they retained these forms themselves.
3.4.4 They also put away into the lockers provided their other valuables – such as wallets – which the receptionist advised they would not be able to take into the interview rooms.

3.5 Once checked in, they were told that they would not be allowed to carry out any legal visits with the detainees that we had been booked in to see. They were told that this was because they needed a signed consent form from each detainee allowing them to act on their behalf as their legal representative.

3.6 By this time, the receptionist had called in her manager, Dave Lancaster, who described himself as the Visiting Manager at Yarl’s Wood. He again informed the solicitors that they would not be allowed in to conduct the legal visit due to the reason given previously. When challenged why this was the case, he said that he had spoken to Jose Domingos, the Deputy Manager for the Home Office at Yarl’s Wood.

3.7 One of the solicitors telephoned me to inform me that this had happened. I asked to speak to Dave Lancaster who then repeated that he had been told by Jose Domingos that the solicitors would not be allowed in. I requested that I be given the telephone number for Jose Domingos in order to speak to him directly. Dave Lancaster repeatedly told me that he would not give me Jose Domingos’ phone number and that I may only call the Yarl’s Wood switchboard.

3.8 I attempted to call the switchboard 3 times but no one answered on each attempt. Fortunately, I found the telephone number for Jose Domingos in my own records which I had retained from a previous matter. I managed to reach him at approximately 15:15, explaining that 6 solicitors had arrived in Yarl’s Wood with booked appointments to see 6 detainees. I further explained that they all had IDs and a letter of introduction. Jose informed me that he would not allow these solicitors in to the legal visit centre because ‘they did not have signed forms of authority from each individual detainee allowing them to visit’.

3.9 I informed Jose Domingos that (a) the Yarl’s Wood website states that they only need a letter of introduction (b) that I had personally conducted many legal visits at Yarl’s Wood without a signed form of authority (often, the whole purpose of going to Yarl’s Wood is to get a signed form of authority) (c) the Detention Centre Rules 2001 do not say that a signed form of authority from the detained client is necessary in order to conduct a legal interview.

3.10 Despite all of the above, Mr Domingos continued to refuse, insisting that ‘the rules’ do not allow entry unless they have a signed form of authority from each client. Upon asking which rules he was referring to, he did not refer to a single written rule, policy or regulation but simply repeated over and over again that ‘these are the rules’. I explained that the solicitors had incurred great time and expense in coming that day and that all the formalities had been complied with. Nonetheless, he continued to refuse to let them in maintaining that ‘these are the rules’ whilst refusing to explain which rules he was referring to.

3.11 The solicitors were separately told by Dave Lancster that they could conduct social visits if they please. However, the solicitors were simultaneously told that there was no social visits space available until 6pm. The 6 solicitors determined that social visit at 6pm instead of legal visits from 1:30pm –3:30pm would not enable them to carry out the tasks that they had come to do – in particular, asking questions on sensitive and confidential topics in a private space, recording evidence in appropriate forms – and that they would not be able to stay for an open-ended amount of time waiting for a slot, as they had only cleared diaries for the time allotted and they had a long journey back to our office in central London.

3.12 Mr Domingos therefore knew that the effect of his decision to deny any contact between the detained individuals and the solicitors on that day. He also knew that our expenses in coming would also be wasted and explained that I was welcome ‘to make a complaint and claim back any expenses from the Home Office if I wished.’
3.13 One of the solicitors who attended Yarl’s Wood had also spoken to Mr Domingos (prior to my phone conversation with him) by telephone whilst still at the centre. Mr Domingos had repeated to her that ‘the rules are the rules’. Both the solicitor and I asked for the refusal to be provided in writing, which he refused to do.

3.14 I found the attitude of Jose Domingos to be patronising, stubborn and highly distressing. As a consequence of his refusal I had to personally telephone all 6 detainees and explain that we were not permitted to visit them. They were all extremely disappointed and anxious due to the deprivation of the legal visit that they were expecting. Mr Domingos repeatedly insisted that ‘the rules are the rules’ without ever discussing where he was getting the rules from. Despite informing him that the Yarl’s Wood visits procedure and the Detention Centre Rules 2001 do not require solicitors to have a signed consent form from the detainee in order to conduct a legal visit, Jose Domingos refused to progress and continued to deny entry to the 6 solicitors.

3.15 At around 15:40, two hours after arriving at Yarl’s Wood, the solicitors left and returned to London. They were caught up in rush hour traffic, and the journey took over two hours.

4. Complaint to Home Office & Keir Starmer MP

4.1 The HCP was extremely disappointed by the events of 26 November 2015, in addition to the financial loss of £350 in travel costs, 6 solicitors had wasted several hours of their time and 6 detainees were deprived of the legal visit that they were anticipating on the day. I therefore decided to pursue a formal complaint to the Home Office.

4.2 A formal complaint letter was sent on the 27 November 2015 by email [Tab A]. An automated response was sent back assuring us that our letter had been delivered to the customer complaints mailbox and that a response would be made within 20 days [Tab B].

4.3 After not hearing back for over three months, I emailed the Home Office again on 16 March 2016 asking for a response, attaching the original letter of complaint. [Tab C]

4.4 After my email was ignored for a second time, I contacted the Member of Parliament for both the HCP office and my personal residence, Keir Starmer QC MP on 3 May 2016. I requested his assistance in contacting the Home Office on my behalf regarding the complaint.

4.5 The following day, Mr Starmer sent a letter to James Brokenshire MP Minister for Immigration on my behalf and provided confirmation of this in writing to me [Tab D].

4.6 The HCP finally received a response dated 20 May 2016 from Fiona Quaynor, a Home Office Immigration Manager [Tab E]. She stated that having reviewed the complaint and that in summary:

i. Contrary to the requirements of Detention Services Order 04/2012 Visitors and Visiting Procedures our 6 lawyers were improperly denied entry for a pre-booked legal visit and that they had complied with all the aforementioned regulations.

ii. However, while she acknowledged that the decision to deny entry was incorrect, she refused to accept any wrongdoing by either Dave Lancaster or Jose Domingos.

iii. Furthermore, the £6,948 compensation sought for the solicitors’ time wasted was refused and only the £350 sought for the travel expenses was accepted.

iv. The response suggests that ‘social visits’ were made available for 18:00 on 27 November 2015 as an alternative to legal visits.

4.7 The HCP are wholly dissatisfied with the response from Fiona Quaynor for the following reasons:

i. The unjustifiable lengthy delay in responding to our complaint: It took a total of 175 days from the date of making the complaint, to the date it was responded to. This is despite the response from the Home Office suggested it would take only 20 days. In order to get a response at all, the HCP had to chase the matter 3 months after the initial complaint and write to our local MP, who sought James Brokenshire’s assistance on our behalf. There were more delays as we awaited his intervention. We are a pro-bono charity with very scarce resources. The response by Ms Quaynor gives no recognition of the strain that the delay and extra paperwork put us under. The delay demonstrates a disregard from the Home Office towards complaint procedures. The complaint gives no assurances that procedures for complaints will be improved in the future.

ii. Refusal to accept any wrong-doing by Dave Lancaster or Jose Domingos: As senior staff at Yarl’s Wood IRC, we expect a professional and honest response upon denying entrance of 6 solicitors entering the detention centre. The constant repetition by Jose Domingos that ‘the rules are the rules’ was stubborn, irrational and dishonest, particularly as he was reminded by both myself and the 6 solicitors present, of the Detention Centre Rules and Yarl’s Wood visitor’s policy which we had fully complied with. Despite our repeated requests, he refused to inform us which rules he was referring to. The HO response accepts that the HCP had in fact complied with all the rules but simultaneously rejects the suggestion that either Jose Domingos or Dave Lancaster were wrong at any stage. The complaint fails to provide a full apology for Mr. Domingos’ behaviour or provide any assurances that such arbitrary interferences will not happen again in the future.

iii. Suggestion that social visits were a proper alternative: We reject that a two hour pre-arranged legal visit from 13:30 -15:30 could have been reasonably replaced a social visit almost five hours later. There is an important distinction between a legal visit and a social visit. For legal visits, a private space is offered for recording answers to questions on sensitive and confidential topics, which would have been impossible in a social visit setting. For legal visits, the taking of laptops, documentation, papers and pens is permitted, whereas they are not permitted in social visits. Furthermore, the solicitors had cleared their diaries for the pre-arranged hours and were unable to stay for an open-ended amount of time, particularly given that they had to also drive the two hours back to London. Fiona Quaynor’s suggestion that a social visit was offered as an alternative is patronising and offensive and, again, demonstrates a disregard for the sanctity of the rules governing detention centres or of the severe impact arbitrary interference with rules had on the HCP and the detainees.

iv. Failure to recognise the heavy cost of the refusal to allow entry on the HCP: As well as the time wasted on the day, 6 solicitors had also spent a great deal of time preparing for the visit and had to explain that they had been denied entry to all 6 detainees, which added embarrassment to the time and money wasted. We have wasted even further time and resources in lodging the complaint, attempting to get a response and due remedies.

v. Failure in recognising the heavy impact on the 6 detainees deprived of a legal visit: While our complaint is against the denial of entry of the solicitors, the impact of denying 6 detainees access to legal assistance is also a significant cause for concern. We are a pro-bono charity providing legal advice and representation to those without access to legal aid or the means to pay privately. We help facilitate access to justice to the most vulnerable by providing pro bono representation. All of the 6 ladies were denied access to justice that day and the impact on them was severe. The complaint does not address whatsoever the Home Office deprivation of the impact on the individual detainees.

vi. Refusal to pay compensation: In her response, Ms Quaynor has accepted that ‘reasonable’ travel costs will be paid but has rejected the compensation sought for the solicitor’s time. The amount we have requested is based on the Practice Direction 13 of the Supreme Court Rules. Accordingly, each solicitor is entitled to £193/hr. Given that 6 solicitors wasted 6 hours of their time, this would amount to £6,948 which we seek as compensation, particularly as her grounds for refusal are based on the social visits offered. Again, the refusal to pay compensation demonstrates a disregard of the impact that arbitrary interference with detention centres rules had on the HCP.

4.8 The response from Fiona Quaynor further stated that if the HCP remains dissatisfied by the way our complaint has been dealt with, we may appeal to the Prison and Probation Service Ombudsman. However, I have spoken with the Prison and Probation Service Ombudsman who have confirmed that they do not have remit to receive our complaint as they only deal with complaints directly from prisoners and detainees. Instead, I have been advised by both the Prison and Probation Service Ombudsman and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman that the correct appeal authority is the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

5. Remedies

5.1 In this application to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, we seek the following remedy:

i. An apology from the Home Office for taking 175 days to respond to our complaint and a written assurance that any future complaint will be dealt with within the 20 day time limit suggested by the Home Office itself.

ii. An apology from Dave Lancaster and Jose Domingos for the arbitrary and unjustifiable interference with the Detention Centre Rules on 26 November 2015 and an assurance that such an occurrence will not happen again.

iii. An acknowledgement that the social visit offered at 18:00 on 26 November 2015 was not a proper alternative to the legal visits that had been validly booked from 13:30– 15:30.

iv. An acknowledgement that the arbitrary prevention of the 6 solicitors from visiting the detention centres had a severe impact on the HCP and an apology for the waste of time we have suffered.

v. An acknowledgement that the arbitrary prevention of the 6 solicitors from visiting the detention centres had a severe impact on the 6 detainees who were deprived access to justice and the right to a legal visit.

vi. In recognition of all of the above, we seek £6,948 in damages for the time incurred by our 6 solicitors. This includes 2 hour journeys each way from Central London and the 2 hour wait time in Yarl’s Wood IRC. Our offices are in WC1. According to Practice Direction 13 of the Supreme Court Rules, the permissible cost for their time is £193 per hour. With a total of 6 hours of wasted time for each of the 6 solicitors, this amounts to £6,948 of wasted costs.

vii. In addition, we seek £350 for the travel expense incurred in hiring a mini-van for the 6 solicitors who attended Yarl’s Wood on 26 November 2015 but were improperly deprived of entrance.

I confirm that this statement is true and accurate to the best of my knowledge and belief.
Signed: Ousman Noor

Dated: 5 July 2016

 

Statistics on our work so far! (infographic included)

gender chartIt’s been almost six months since we published our annual report so today we are publishing updated statistics on our work. The Habeas Corpus Project are pleased to announce that so far this year we have provided legal assistance to 66 people held in immigration detention. This means we have represented 167 people since we first began. If we continue at this rate we will have helped over 130 people by the end of 2016, an increase of nearly a third compared to the 101 people in 2015.

We have so far represented people from 50 different countries (see infographic above). We have have diversified our client base, and have been reaching out to a far greater number of male detainees. This is due to an increase in clients from Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, the predominately male detention centres beside Heathrow airport. Yarl’s Wood remains the detention centre with the most HCP clients.

So far this year, we have released 12 people from detention, visit ‘Our Cases’ for a post on some of our successes.This means we have helped secure the release of 32 people in total so far.
IRC chart
The team has worked extremely hard in providing justice for a growing number of detainees which has resulted in an expansion of our client base and successes. The HCP will continue to work to provide access to justice for people in immigration detention and hopes that the next six months will be as fruitful as the first.

Finally, a huge thank you to the staff, volunteers and donors who have made this work possible. At the top there’s a cool infographic depicting the wide range of client nationalities since we opened.

 

The Home Office Finally Publishes A DSO on Internet Access in Detention

The Habeas Corpus Project website was among several websites that immigration detainees were blocked from visiting. We expressed our strong concern about this in in March 2015.

A Detention Services Order 04/2016 regarding internet access for detainees has recently been published by the Home Office, allowing detainees to have “reasonable and regulated access” for a minimum of at least 7 hours a day and 7 days a week – although an excessive demand of access will result in limited individual time slots. This DSO marks the first time the Home Office has set a standardised policy which must be followed by immigrations centres and includes guidelines that internet suppliers of detention centres must follow when providing their services.

This order gives detainees the right to access websites of educational, legal and news content, as well as to assist them in “maintaining links with friends, families and legal representatives and to prepare for removal”. As mentioned in our previous blogpost (link), we were informed by one of our clients that detainees were blocked from accessing our website, as well as the websites of other legal support organisations and even the websites of some solicitors’ firms.

This standardised policy should, in theory, mean that detainees will be allowed to access these previously blocked websites, but only time will tell whether this guideline will be complied by the detention centres. Access to these websites are of particular importance as it enables detainees to obtain information on legal support and assistance, and even more so at a time where cuts to legal aid are being made.

There are, however, other doubtful provisions that the Home Office has set, such as one where any detainee found to be attempting to access websites falling under the “list of prohibited categories” (Paragraph 11) will be suspended from further usage of the internet.
This includes

“Prohibited lifestyle categories:

Social networking (including Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms and instant messaging)

Pornographic material

Dating

Gambling

 

Prohibited harm related categories

Terrorism (extremist and radicalisation material)

Weapons and explosives

Racist material

Crime

Despite stating that detainees are supposedly allowed to maintain links with their friends and family in its procedures, it is still unclear as to why detainees would be denied access to social networking websites such as Skype and Facebook. The purpose of the order states how “reasonable and regulated” access to internet is granted as long as the “security of the detention estate is not undermined” and the Habeas Corpus Project fail to see how allowing detainees access to websites that would connect them with their friends and family can be a potential threat to the security of any of the detention centres.

In an independent review published by Stephen Shaw, a former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales, Shaw was highly critical of the blanket ban of social networking websites, stating that such restricted access to the internet was counter-productive and he found no security objection from the centre operators. Any “downloading and uploading of files” are also prohibited due to security reasons and any detainee wishing to do so must report to the internet supplier’s security manager to receive the appropriate support.

The Habeas Corpus Project welcomes the loosening of the restrictions on the detainees’ access to internet and we are pleased that there is finally a standardised set of guidelines that internet suppliers must follow when monitoring the detainees’ internet. However, there are still certain aspects of the DSO that we find lack basis, such as the prohibition of using social networking websites and the strict conditions on the uploading and downloading of files. Since this DSO is to be implemented at the end of the month, only time will tell how this DSO will impact the detainees’ access to internet.

A big thank you to all our sponsors! The HCP completes the London Legal Walk

Yesterday a team from the Habeas Corpus Project joined over 10,000 people in the London Legal Walk, a 10km charity fundraising walk through central London. The team was made up of HCP staff, our volunteers, trustees and friends.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored us so generously. With your help we raised an amazing £1,972.75 for the HCP! This amount was far beyond our expectations and we are truly grateful to everyone who contributed.

Thank you also to the London Legal Support Trust for organising such a great event in aid of organisations promoting access to justice.

Remember, it’s not too late to donate! Click here to sponsor us.

Protest on 7th May 2016

This Saturday, 7th May, is National Day of Action against Detention in the UK and across Europe. There will be demonstrations being held across the UK detention centres, in solidarity with the thousands of people that are currently detained or those who have lived through experiences of detention. For information regarding your nearest demonstration, click on the link below:

Find out where protests are happening

Picture source: Movement for Justice

 

Our Statement to the Bar Council re: Home Office hacking phone calls to clients

The Habeas Corpus Project is extremely dissapointed to learn that immigration officials have been permitted to hack the phones of refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom are rape and torture victims, including conversations with their legal representatives such as the Habeas Corpus Project.

In response to this revelation, the Habeas Corpus Project have submitted the following statement to the Bar Council and Bar Standards Board, our regulatory authority. We look forward to their response.

To: The Bar Council and Bar Standards Board

Dear Sirs,

We at the Habeas Corpus Project wish to register our profound concern and alarm at the news that the Home Office has been granted powers to allow immigration officers to hack the phones of refugees and asylum seekers. It is understood that, following an amendment of the Police Act 1997, the Home Office now has the power of “property interference, including interference with equipment”. In practical terms, this allows them to hack the phones and computers of individuals and even to place listening devices in homes, cars and detention centres.

The Habeas Corpus Project is a charity that provides pro bono legal representation to people held unlawfully within the UK immigration detention estate. Our clients are often extremely vulnerable people whose cases involve deeply sensitive material. Many are survivors of rape, torture, human trafficking and are suffering from PTSD. This power is a gross invasion of their privacy, but more alarmingly, it will profoundly undermine the lawyer-client relationship of confidentiality which is one of the pillars that underpins their confidence in the representation they receive from us.

We believe this development to be hugely discriminatory and a gross and unjustified abuse of Parliamentary powers. It absolutely interferes with our clients’ right to free and independent legal representation. Given this, the Habeas Corpus Project would urge the Bar Standards Board to speak out against this development and place pressure upon Parliament to reverse this deeply alarming development. This is a matter of deep concern to many barristers. Therefore we believe that the Bar Standards Board ought to add its voice to the chorus of criticism that has met this latest erosion of an individual’s right to have communications with their legal representatives guarded by legal profession privilege.

Yours faithfully,

Habeas Corpus Project

Thank You to 'We Welcome You' for the Support

We would like to thank ‘We Welcome You’, not only for their generous donation to the Habeas Corpus Project yesterday, but also for their outstanding work over the past few years.

‘We Welcome You’ is a project to raise money and awareness in support of migrants and refugees in the UK. Having volunteered for various migrants rights organisations in London, Tamsin and Totes were concerned by the hostile rhetoric emerging amidst the so called ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015. The two friends made a handful of bags and and a little zine filled with ideas of how to support migrants locally, and facts about immigration in the UK. The money that they raised through selling these has been put into organisations that support migrants and refugees. They also hope that by using and wearing these bags, ‘We Welcome You’ supporters will form the basis of a visible network of people who are proud to support migration to the UK.

We encourage our readers to help support ‘We Welcome You’ by visiting their website and buying one of their bags and/or zines over here.

 

We Are Looking for New Trustees: Apply Now!

join us large 2The Habeas Corpus Project has marked one full year since it was officially established as a charity. In one year we have managed to achieve so much including:

  • Providing free legal representation to over 80 immigration detainees
  • Securing the release of over 15 detainees
  • Winning pro-bono costs orders against the Secretary of State for our litigation in 4 cases
  • Establishing a strong pro-bono partnership with DLA Piper (one of the world’s largest law firms) and receiving an award from the Public Interest Lawyers Network annual awards in Rome, Italy for our partnership.
  • Establishing a strong reputation built on trust amongst detainees in several Immigration Removal Centre including Yarl’s Wood
  • Being interviewed by the BBC for one of our cases and being reported in the Independent and Law Society Gazette
  • Securing a long-lasting lease for our office premises at 78 Cromer Street, London, WC1H 8DR
  • Applying pressure on the Home Office to improve communication and access to lawyers in Yarl’s Wood
  • Securing over £25,000 in donations in our first 12 months, placing us in a strong position going forward in to 2016.
  • Developing strong administrative and litigation protocols for continued work in the future.
  • Hosting a training event at SOAS: University of London on unlawful detention with full capacity attendance
  • A portfolio of over 10 part-time volutneers assisting the charity over the past year, with 5 who continue in to 2016.

The Habeas Corpus Project currently has only 3 Trustees. The Chair of Trustees is Ousman Noor who will soon be transferred to become a full time Director of the charity.

We are looking to recruit two new trustees to join us. Whilst the role will be unpaid, you will be a part of this team and help lead us to exciting new frontiers. Here are some details:

Roles and Responsibilities of a Trustee

Note: The role of a Trustee is not a ‘full-time’ job, it will largely be done remotely, by telephone and email. Trustees can expect to dedicate around 4-8 hours of their time per month to the role. The role is unpaid, save for any expenses incurred as part of your role and only if agreed by the other Trustees. 

  • Meet with the other Trustees at least once every 8 weeks at our office – meetings to be organised by the Director
  • To ensure that the charity is carrying out its purpose for the public benefit
  • Comply with the charity’s governing constitution
  • Act in the charity’s best interests
  • Help promote the effective management of the charity’s resources
  • Ensure that the charity is kept accountable
  • Use your skill and experience to help guide and advise the charity on key issues when necessary
  • Develop strong relationships with relevant individuals and organisations to the charity’s benefit
  • Be available and responsive to the Director in relation to charity activities and affairs when necessary

Benefits of Being a Trustee

  • Be a part of an exciting and ambitious team creating radical positive change in the field of immigration detention
  • Use your skill and experience to shape the future of the Habeas Corpus Project
  • Have your name and profile on our website as one of our Trustees
  • Be invited to take part in our future events (in the UK and abroad)
  • Meet new people (us!) and make a difference together

Ideal Candidate

The ideal candidate for this position will have:

  • Experience in law/human rights and/or issues relating to immigration detention
  • Experience working with charities either as trustee or an employee of one
  • Willingness to dedicate time to improving the charity either through meetings, advice, guidance and/or facilitating new contacts or funding opportunities
  • Be based in or near London, or otherwise be able to come to our office in Central London for Trustee meetings when required
  • Be responsive to the emails/phone calls of the Director as and when required
  • Believe in and respect the core ideals of the charity i.e. access to justice, challenging unlawful detention and promoting fairness in the law.

Candidates must not:

  • have an unspent conviction for an offence involving dishonesty or deception (such as fraud)
  • are bankrupt or have entered into a formal arrangement (eg an individual voluntary arrangement) with a creditor
  • have been removed as a company director or charity trustee because of wrongdoing

How to Apply

If you are interested please do let us know by emailing us at info@habeas-corpus.org.uk. We will arrange a short telephone conversation followed by an informal interview at our office in central London, 78 Cromer Street, London, WC1H 8DR.

Deadline: 29th January 2016 (but please apply as soon as possible!).

Thank you to all!

Six Lawyers Unlawfully Blocked From Entering Yarl's Wood Detention Centre

We are outraged by events at Yarl’s Wood IRC today, where six of our volunteer lawyers were deliberately barred from entering the detention centre without lawful explanation.

The lawyers travelled from London to Yarl’s Wood to make a legal visit with our clients in detention. They had gone to the expense of renting a minibus and sacrificing the entire working day to volunteer their expertise to the Habeas Corpus Project and provide assistance to six different detained ladies held in Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

On arrival at Yarl’s Wood, the immigration department refused to allow the lawyers entry to the detention centre. The appointments had been booked 48 hours in advance and fully complied with detention centre rules.

These actions show an alarming disregard for access to justice and accountability.

We have just made a full complaint to the Home Office. Please see a copy of the full complaint with full facts below:

 

COMPLAINT

Dear Home Office Complaints Department,

My name is Ousman Noor, barrister and Director of the Habeas Corpus Project, an entity authorised regulated by the Bar Standards Board and professionally insured by the Bar Mutual to provide legal advice and representation to immigration detainees in challenging instances of unlawful detention on a pro-bono basis. Our charity registration number is 1159689 and company registration number is 09390086. Our address for correspondence is 78 Cromer Street, London, WC1H 8DR and email at info@habeas-corpus.org.uk

I am writing to make a complaint and seek £7,298 damages for an incident that occurred on 26th November 2015 at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. I request that a response is provided immediately and, in any event, not later than 20 days from today i.e. by 17th December 2015

Facts

The Habeas Corpus Project had been contacted by telephone by a number of detainees within Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. Amongst the detainees that contacted us were:

  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>
  • <NAME REDACTED>

Each of these individuals was being detained at Yarl’s Wood detention centre and had sent us various documents relating to their cases. They sought our legal assistance to gain a clearer understanding of their rights in immigration detention.

In order to provide such assistance, the Habeas Corpus Project determined it necessary to arrange in-person legal interviews with each of these clients. The purpose of the interviews was to collect evidence from each individual and take copies of any necessary documentation relating to their detention status. Such interviews are necessary in order for the Habeas Corpus Project to determine whether or not we are able to make legal representations on their behalf.

The Habeas Corpus Project has pro-bono partnerships with a network of qualified solicitors, themselves regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. These solicitors assist the Habeas Corpus Project with elements of our case-work and client interviews on a pro-bono basis.

On Tuesday 24th November 2015, the Habeas Corpus Project booked appointments by telephone with Yarl’s Wood IRC for legal interviews to take place between 13:30 – 15:30 on Thursday 26th November 2015. The interviews were booked for each of the 6 detainees named above to take place with 6 qualified solicitors.

The names and dates of birth of each solicitor were provided to Yarl’s Wood IRC and the corresponding names of the detained individuals were also provided. The appointments were duly booked and confirmed by telephone.

On the morning of 26th November 2015, the 6 solicitors booked transportation in order to take them to Yarl’s Wood IRC in order to conduct the legal interviews. As per the guidance provided on the Yarl’s Wood website and within the Detention Services Order 04/2012 (“Visits DSO”), each solicitor took with them an ID and a letter of introduction from the Habeas Corpus Project with a letterhead containing our contact details and the names of the individual detainees who they were visiting.

The solicitors arrived at Yarl’s Wood at 13:45, checked in at the reception and completed Section 84 forms. Upon doing so, a person named Dave Lancaster, who described himself as the Visiting Manager at Yarl’s Wood, informed the solicitors that they would not be allowed in to conduct a legal visit. The explanation given was that each solicitor needed a signed form of authority from each detainee permitting them to visit them. When challenged why this was the case, Dave Lancaster said that he had spoken to Jose Domingos, the Deputy Manager for the Home Office at Yarl’s Wood.

One of the solicitors telephoned me to inform me that this had happened. I asked to speak to Dave Lancaster who then repeated that he had been told by Jose Domingos that the solicitors would not be allowed in. I requested that I be given the telephone number for Jose Domingos in order to speak to him directly. Dave Lancaster repeatedly told me that he would not give me Jose Domingo’s phone number and that I may only call the Yarl’s Wood switchboard.

Following that advice I called the Yarl’s Wood switchboard three times, but no one answered on each attempt. Fortunately, I found in my records the telephone number for the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Department. Despite Dave Lancaster refusing to give me this number, I was able to call it and get through to Jose Domingos only due to my own records.

Upon connecting to Jose Domingos at approximately 15:15 I explained that 6 solicitors had arrived in Yarl’s Wood with booked appointments to see 6 detainees. I explained that each solicitor had an ID and a letter of introduction. Jose told me that he would not allow these solicitors in to the legal visit centre because ‘they did not have signed forms of authority from each individual detainee allowing them to visit’. I informed Jose Domingos that (a) the Yarl’s Wood website says that they only need a letter of introduction (b) that I had personally conducted many legal visits at Yarl’s Wood without a signed form of authority (often, the whole purpose of going to Yarl’s Wood is to get a signed a form of authority!) (c) the Detention Centre Rules 2001 do not say that a signed form of authority from the detained client is necessary in order to conduct a legal visit.

Despite all of the above, Jose continued to refuse to allow these 6 solicitors in to Yarl’s Wood. He kept on insisting that ‘the rules’ do not allow entry unless they have a signed form of authority from each client. I asked Jose which rules he was referring to. He did not refer to a single written rule, policy or regulation but simply said ‘those are the rules’. I repeatedly asked Jose to clarify where these ‘rules’ were contained, but he repeatedly refused to explain and kept repeating that ‘these are the rules’. I explained to Jose that the solicitors had incurred great time and expense in coming today and that all the formalities had been complied with. Nonetheless, he continued to refuse to let them in.

Jose then said that the solicitors would be welcome to conduct social visits if they pleased. However, I was simultaneously told that there was no space in the social visit area and that social visits would not be permitted that day. Jose therefore knew that the effect of his decision was to deny any contact between the detained individuals and the solicitors on that day. He also knew that our expenses in coming to Yarl’s Wood would be wasted. Jose then explained that I was welcome ‘to make a complaint and claim back any expenses from the Home Office if I wished’

Prior to speaking to Jose myself, one of the 6 solicitors who attended Yarl’s Wood had also spoken to Jose by telephone whilst still at the centre. This solicitor also asked Jose which rule he was relying upon to refuse them entry. Jose again repeated that ‘these are the rules’ and said that they would not be allowed in.

The solicitor who spoke directly to Jose asked for his reasons for refusal to be provided to us in writing. Jose confirmed that he would not be willing to provide confirmation of his decision in writing. Due to this refusal I made a voice recording of my telephone conversation with him for my own records, which is available should it be needed as part of any investigation. I informed Jose that I had recorded the telephone conversation and that it would be used to form this complaint. Jose acknowledged that I had explained this to him.

The solicitors were required to leave Yarl’s Wood and make the 2 hour journey back to London without conducting any interviews.

 

Detention Services Order 04/2012 (“Visit DSO) and Yarl’s Wood published policy for legal visits

Paragraph 9 of the Detention Services Order 04/2012 (“Visit DSO”) states:

Legal representatives wishing to visit detainees must make an appointment with the IRC. On arrival, legal representatives must provide one of the following:

– identity card issued by their firm or chambers

– introductory letter on headed paper from their firm or chambers which must contain a contact number and name the detainee(s) to be visited.

The Yarl’s Wood IRC website at http://www.yarlswood.co.uk/book-a-visit repeats the same provisions in relation to conducting legal visits:

Legal representatives wishing to visit detainees must make an appointment with the Immigration Removal Centre. On arrival, legal representatives must provide one of the following:

 

– Identity card issued by their firm or chambers

– Introductory letter on headed paper from their firm or chambers which must contain a contact number and name the residents(s) to be visited.

 

Complaint & Damages

We complied with all formalities in booking the interviews, bringing the relevant ID and introductory letter as prescribed on the Yarl’s Wood website. We incurred enormous expense in arranging for the 6 solicitors to attend Yarl’s Wood and pay for transportation to the centre.

We have been unlawfully prevented from conducting interviews with the 6 ladies named above. No reference to any regulation, policy and law was cited by either Dave Lancaster or Jose Domingos for why the solicitors could not enter. The formalities contained within the Detention Services Order 04/2012 and on the Yarl’s Wood website had all been complied with. The manner of speaking to us was bitter, targeted and upsetting.

The incident was deeply frustrating for us, our 6 solicitors and the 6 detainees who were being visited, each of whom were denied access to justice and right to speak to a lawyer. As a pro-bono organisation that operates on good-will and volunteerism from professionals we simply cannot afford to book another visit to Yarl’s Wood. There was no excuse for denying the Yarl’s Wood detainees from accessing justice, especially in such a blunt, hurtful and wasteful way.

Apart from a full apology from both Dave Lancaster and Jose Dominos, we seek the following damages:

As a result of the refusal, we incurred 6 hours of wasted time per solicitor. This includes 2 hour journey each way from Central London and the 2 hour wait time in Yarl’s Wood IRC in which both Dave Lancaster and Jose Domingos refused to allow them to enter. Our offices are within the WC1 post code. According to Practice Direction 13 of the Supreme Court Rules, the permissible costs per hour for their time is £193/hour. With a total of 6 hours of wasted time for each of the 6 solicitors, this calculates to £6,948 of wasted costs. In addition, the cost of transportation to and from Yarl’s Wood was £350. In total, as a result of the unfair and unlawful denial of entry of these solicitors in to the detention centre, we seek damages of £7,298.

As set out in the introduction, we request an immediate response to this complaint and, in any event, by 17th December 2015 at the latest.

Yours faithfully

Ousman Noor, Barrister & Director

Habeas Corpus Project