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

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