Home Office unlawfully detained ‘potentially thousands’ of asylum seekers

The Home Office has lost a legal bid to overturn a court ruling which found it had detained asylum seekers unlawfully.

The judgment may pave the way for a wave of damages claims, lawyers said, as it could potentially affect thousands of people held in immigration detention centres between January 1 2014 and March 15 2017.

In a written ruling published on Tuesday, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal from Government lawyers against a judgment last year which found detaining asylum seekers solely for the purposes of deporting them while their claims were considered was unlawful.

The claims were being processed under what are known as the Dublin regulations, part of which states asylum seekers must make their application in the first safe country they arrive in.

If they have already passed through another country before arriving in the UK, the Home Office can send them back there.

The rules also mean the government can hold people in detention while their claims are being considered if they are perceived to pose a “significant risk of absconding”.

But the court case focused on the experiences of five men from Iraq and Afghanistan who were held during this period but were not deemed to present such a risk.

At the time, laws did not set out any criteria for what would constitute the risk, according to the judgment.

In the ruling, Lady Hale (pictured) said the Court of Appeal was “right to hold that the respondents were wrongfully detained” and the “Secretary of State” was “seeking to apply these principles well beyond their proper limits”, adding: “The respondents are also entitled to compensation for any loss their wrongful detention has caused them.”

Bahar Ata, of Duncan Lewis Solicitors which represented the detainees, said policies of using detention sparingly and as a last resort were often “ignored” in favour of keeping people behind bars.

The impact of the judgment was “widespread” and could affect “potentially thousands of individuals” who were held unlawfully while their applications were considered.

She added: “This is a significant judgment recognising that use of power to detain is exercised in almost all circumstances without carrying out an assessment on risk of absconding or taking into account individual circumstances.”

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