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.
THE HCP RESPONSE TO THE HOME OFFICE:
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 email@example.com 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.
126.96.36.199 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.
188.8.131.52 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.
5.1 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
It’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.
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.
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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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.
Ousman Noor, Barrister & Director
Habeas Corpus Project
The Habeas Corpus Project would like to thank all those who generously donated to our project over the last two months.
By July, we were on the brink of being forced to close the project due to lack of funding, but decided to continue operating for as long for as possible. We created a Total Giving webpage with a target of £3,000, enough to cover our costs for the rest of the year.
Our supporters came to the rescue, showing real compassion through our crowdsourcing webpage and anonymous donations. At the time of writing the total amounts to over £14,500.
We are astounded and truly humbled by the kindness of the all those who gave to the Habeas Corpus Project. With your donations we are able to keep on fighting to defend liberty and human rights into 2016.
We are continuing to accept donations through our Indiegogo page:
In a unique demonstration of solidarity, twenty detained women rallied at Yarl’s Wood to peacefully resist the forced removal of LN, an elderly Kenyan national who had claimed asylum in the UK.
The Habeas Corpus Project was informed of the incident on the 10th April 2015 and attended Yarl’s Wood to take statements from four of the detained protestors.
We can report that on Thursday the 9th of April the women gathered in the bedroom of a detainee, JL, surrounding LN and refusing requests to move.
Immigration officers were brought up to take individual pictures of the women in an attempt to threaten them; telling them that their actions would impact their immigration cases. As a result of these scare tactics some of the detainees left, leaving six women remaining in solidarity with LN.
According to a Home Office report of the incident, the decision was made in conjunction with Home Office Immigration Enforcement to ‘use PPE and appropriate teams to relocate LN to reception and highlighted residents who were non-compliant to Kingfisher unit.’
What this means is that around forty officers in full riot gear were summoned to the room and the adjacent corridor to forcefully remove LN and take the women gathered around her to solitary confinement.
Although the report states that ‘force was used for a short time using approved C&R Techniques’, we have testimony from a number of residents present that indicate that this was not the case.
One officer in particular was recognised by the women we spoke to. In their statements to us, the detainees described how this officer, a guard at Yarl’s Wood, used the sharp edge of his shield to batter the women who were sitting on the bed. They then lay on the bed in an attempt to protect their faces and necks and sustained injuries to their shins and ankles.
This is how one of the women related the event to us:
“Then he started with this shield. Me and [my friend], AR, lay down on the bed and put our legs up because I though he was going to get my face and my neck, and what’s going to happen then? I have bruises all over my legs. AR went to hospital.”
“When he started to beat me with his shield the two male officers came running in because they were scared. I heard other managers and officers start to shout to [this officer]: “You can’t do that – you can only push. You can’t beat them.” And then two officers, without shields, without nothing, came running into the room and took me and AR and dragged us out of the room because they were scared he was going too far.”
Another woman reported that there were three guards to each woman, and that they were pushed to the floor in a manner completely disproportionate to the threat they posed as peaceful protesters.
“Respect. Support. Commitment. That’s our Promise.” Those are the words you can find boldly written across the home page for Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, run by the private security company Serco. They read somewhat ironically in light of this most recent incident which has resulted in six detainees being sent to solitary confinement, two of whom remain there over a week later. These two have been informed that they will remain in solitary confinement until they have been transferred to prison. They have not yet been charged with any crime.
One of the women present involved has a bail hearing soon and is concerned that the incident will negatively impact her chances of being released from detention on bail. ‘We have been described as disruptive.’ she told us, ‘even though we weren’t doing anything. Just sitting and praying. Nobody was fighting. We were not even being disruptive in the first place, so why did they bring all the riot police?’
If the incident was escalated not by the residents of Yarl’s Wood, but by the guards, it would not be right to describe the resident as disruptive in a bail summary and yet the distinction will not be made.
The detainees in Yarl’s Wood are vulnerable women going through a very difficult time in their lives. Many of these women have experienced serious hardships in their lives so far, such as sexual abuse and torture. Serious depression and PTSD are common conditions among the residents, some of whom are even driven to attempt to end their lives whilst in detention.
The Home Office has a duty of care to these women which must not be taken lightly. Blatant bullying and abuse of power such as happened on the 9th of April must not be tolerated because it happens behind closed doors.