Our Complaint to the National Removal Command

Further to our post on 2nd October 2015 regarding the broken fax machine at the National Removal Command which prevented us from making representations in JP’s case, we have lodged a formal complaint to the Home Office.

We request that the email address which we were told is only provided to legal representatives and detainees in ‘exceptional circumstances’ be made available all of the time and be printed clearly on all removal directions. It is unacceptable that the email address should have been withheld from us until after JP’s removal.

The following complaint was lodged on 8th October 2015. Until the outcome of that complaint we will be withold publication of the email address to provide an opportunity to the Home Office to make the address public themselves. The Home Office advertise that complaints are responded to within 20 days. Here is our complaint in full:

COMPLAINT

Dear Complaints Officer for the Home Office (National Removal Command),

I am writing to make a formal complaint about our difficulties sending faxes to the National Removal Command. This is an original complaint. The Habeas Corpus Project is a registered charity and limited company providing pro bono legal representation to individuals in immigration detention.

On Thursday 1st October 2015 we became instructed to represent JP (Home Office Ref: [ omitted here]  (DOB: [omitted here], Nationality: Jamaica) who was being detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.

Facts

On Friday 2nd October 2015 JP was removed from the UK on [omitted here] to [omitted here], Jamaica at 12:40pm.

JP had obtained evidence prior to her removal that she was the victim of torture, confirmed by evidence contained within a Rule 35 report conducted by Dr. [omitted here] within Yarl’s Wood. In addition, she received a letter from her sister in Jamaica who had recently been viciously attacked by stabbing and hospitalised. The letter warned that the same fate may await JP upon her return to Jamaica.

I therefore prepared on her behalf a letter with Further Submissions for a Fresh Claim in Asylum. This letter is attached as Exhibit A. Due to the timing of her instruction to me, the earliest I could complete such representations was 11:00am on Friday 2nd October 2015.

At 11:20am I attempted to fax these representations to the fax number provided on her removal direction, 08703369480. The fax failed to be received at this number. I therefore called her immigration officer Mr. [omitted here] at NRC Birmingham 2 on 01213458055. Mr. [omitted here] assured me that the fax number was in fact working and that I should keep trying. I therefore tried an additional 3 times. Again, the fax failed to receive. Upon calling Mr. [omitted here] again I asked for an alternative fax number and /or email address as the matter was now extremely urgent. Mr. [omitted here] repeatedly refused to provide an alternative method of communication despite my repeated requests, stressing the urgency of the matter. I was simply told to ‘keep trying’.

A total of fifteen attempts to fax urgent representations to the Home Office were made, all of which ‘failed to receive’. Please see attached Exhibit B showing the ‘failed to receive’ messages we received after three attempts from our online fax system, which tries to send each fax three times, making it a total of nine failed attempts through this system. We also tried sending the representations manually from our other fax number (which is a physical fax machine) six more times, but every time our attempt was met with an engaged tone. We have had no problems sending faxes to other numbers from both of our faxes.

After multiple failed attempts to send the fax, we again called the National Removal Command (NRC). In three further separate telephone conversations with Mr. [omitted here], we pleaded with him to provide an alternative method of communication so that representations could be submitted. We were consistently denied. Faced with Mr. [omitted here]’s intransigence, we asked to speak to his manager and he refused upon first request. He finally then agreed to transfer us to his manager but we held for five minutes and the phone went dead. We were therefore never able to speak to Mr. [omitted here]’s superior.

Finally, at 12:43pm, we received a call from NRC Croydon to inform us that the NRC fax number which we had been sending our representations to (and which we were consistently told was working) was in fact not working, and had not been working since 9:45am. This news came 3 minutes after JP’s plane left the runway and it was now too late to make representations. After telling us that her flight had now left, the National Removal Command gave us an email address to send our representations to. This was despite previously repeatedly telling us that they could not give us any email contact.

Due to the ‘broken fax machine’, the refusal to provide an alternative fax number, the refusal to provide an email address (and subsequent provision of an email address, 3 minutes after her flight left the runway), our representations were not read by the National Removal Command. If they had been received, the Home Office would be obliged to consider our representations before removing her.

Consequence

Due to the (a) broken fax machine (b) refusal of the NRC to provide an alternative method of urgent communication until after our client’s removal (c) refusal to let me speak to a senior person within the NRC and (d) provision of an alternative email address 3 minutes after our client had left the runway; our client was removed from the UK on Friday 2nd October 2015 despite fresh evidence of her being the victim of torture and evidence from her sister that she may be at risk of persecution upon return.

It is wholly unacceptable that detainees’ legal representatives are unable to send urgent representations to the NRC. The consequence of the deliberate failure to provide a method of communication has arguably caused the removal of an individual to a country in which she will be subject to ill or degrading treatment contrary to the UK’s obligations under Article 3 of the ECHR.

The refusal by officer Mr. [omitted here] to provide an alternative means of communication was both unethical, unprofessional and, despite the urgency of the situation being made clear to him, arguably put the UK in breach of its legal obligations.

Media

We note that the Independent newspaper wrote an article about this event which can be read online. Note, we did not provide any comment to the Independent newspaper, nor were we asked.

However, the newspaper claims that a journalist spoke to the Home Office about the incident. The Home Office did confirm that the fax machine had been broken that morning. The Home Office spokesperson alleges that an alternative email address had been provided. However, they do not clarify that this email address was only provided after our client had been removed from the UK. This is a blatant distortion of the facts.

Failed faxes on 7th October 2015

Yesterday, Wednesday 7th October, we tried to send a fax to the same number regarding a different client in order to send an application for Temporary Admission. After 6 failed attempts, see Exhibit C, we then spoke to Mr. [omitted here] at NRC Birmingham 1 who refused to give us an alternative fax number or an email address. We then spoke to his manager (who did not disclose her name) and she also refused.

Remedy:

The issue of the broken fax machine was clearly not a one-off. We have learned that the fax number 08703369480 is a centralized fax number for the whole of the National Removal Command. We often get notifications of failed attempts to fax correspondence to this number, as demonstrated by the subsequent more recent failures.

A better means of urgent communication to the National Removal Command MUST be provided.

There are two remedies:

  • An email address should be written clearly on all removal directions, where urgent representations can be sent. We have learned that the email address [email address] is a working email address with which representations can be made (this was made clear to use after our client had already left the UK). This email address should be stated on all removal directions so that legal representatives have a means of communication with the NRC when the fax machine is not working. There is no good reason why this email address should not be provided to ALL individuals who are being removed from the UK.
  • Additional fax numbers should be provided to ensure that one is working at all times as the one provided is clearly prone to failure which can have appalling consequences.

We await your reply. Our contact details are as follows:

Email: info@habeas-corpus.org.uk

Telephone/Fax: 0207 112 5370

Address: Habeas Corpus Project, 78 Cromer Street, London, WC1H 8DR

Yours faithfully,

Ousman Noor,

Director and Barrister,

Habeas Corpus Project

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