A Court of Appeal ruling preventing the government from deporting some individuals detained at immigration detention centres near Heathrow to Jamaica has highlighted the importance of access to legal advice.
Lady Justice Simler ruled yesterday that no one should be removed on this morning's Home Office charter flight to Jamaica unless they had access to a working SIM card since 3 February. The Home Office appealed the ruling but its application was rejected shortly after midnight.
Detention Action, a campaining charity, had sought an urgent court injunction preventing individuals who had not been given proper access to legal advice being deported to Jamaica or anywhere else. The charity, represented by national firm Duncan Lewis, said none of those detained at the Heathrow detention centres was able to make mobile phone calls because of a problem with an O2 mast. As a result, they lacked proper means to access legal advice which should have been possible for the full five-day notice period leading up to their removal.
In yesterday's order, Lady Justice Simler said the goverment’s own policy states that detainees being removed by charter flight subject to special arrangements must be given a minimum of five days’ working notice so they can seek legal advice.
Simler said: 'Given the difficulties in relation to the O2 mast outage since early January, the defendant [Home Office] has recognised the need to secure access to such legal advice and assistance through the provision of non-O2 SIM cards. However, the defendant's evidence suggests that EE SIM cards to access legal advice and assistance were only provided to those scheduled for removal at 6.30am tomorrow from and after 2.52pm on 5 February, with the last recorded entry at 7.15pm on 6 February 2020.
'On that basis, the evidence suggests that of those scheduled for removal at 6.30am tomorrow, at best some individuals have had a functioning SIM card for three working days. At worst, the evidence indicates that some have still not received a functioning SIM card. Further, in light of the evidence filed by the claimant I cannot be confident that there were adequate alternative means of accessing legal advice and assistance during a minimum of five working days before the charter flight to Jamaica at 6.30am tomorrow.'
Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said the ruling was a 'victory for access to justice and the rule of law'. However, a few hours later she said the charity was speaking to individuals covered by the appeal court's order 'who have been removed to the airport and told they are being deported'.
This morning, Sankey said: 'We understand that some, possibly all, of these individuals may have been ultimately removed from the flight but we are currently trying to clarify this.'
A spokesperson for the Home Office confirmed that 17 serious foreign criminals convicted of rape, violent crimes and drug offences were deported. 'We will be urgently pursuing the removal of those who were prevented from boarding the flight due to a legal challenge over a mobile network failure,' the spokesperson said.
The Home Office said the court ruling did not apply to everyone so the flight had gone. It added that all foreign national offenders at the immigration removal centres on 5 February, who were due to be removed on the charter flight, had 'ample' access to other communication methods during the mobile network outages, including face-to-face legal surgeries.
Law Society president Simon Davis said judicial review is a 'vital part of the checks and balances necessary to protect people from powerful institutions... We are pleased to see the courts upholding the principle of access to justice by ensuring that people facing deportation have the ability to receive proper legal advice, regardless of their history or nationality'.