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Torture Survivors Were Wrongly Imprisoned, High Court Rules

The Home Office will not appeal the ruling.

10/10/2017 11:11 | Updated 10 October 2017

Torture survivors have won a High Court challenge against the Home Office over policy which saw asylum seekers fleeing persecution wrongly locked up in immigration detention centres.

Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that the Home Office policy “lacked a rational or evidence basis” and wrongly allowed many who had been tortured overseas to be imprisoned.

The Adults at Risk policy, introduced in September 2016, had redefined torture to refer to violence carried out only by official state agents. 

Sean Dempsey - PA Images via Getty Images
Yarls Wood immigration Removal centre in Clapham near Bedford in Bedfordshire (file picture)

The charity Medical Justice and seven former immigration centre detainees argued the legal definition was too narrow.  

The detainees included victims of sexual and physical abuse, trafficking, sexual exploitation, homophobic attacks, a child abused by loan sharks and a young man kidnapped and abused by the Taliban. The Home Office’s narrowed definition of torture excluded the seven from being recognised as torture victims. 

The judge stated that the definition of “torture” intended for use in the policy would require medical practitioners to “reach conclusions on political issues which they cannot rationally be asked to reach”. 

Liberty
Martha Spurrier of Liberty welcomed the ruling, describing the policy as 'a damning indictment of our Government' 

After the ruling, one of the detainees who was unlawfully held and suffered mental health deterioration while he was in detention, said: “It has left a scar in my life that will never be healed. Although I was recognised as a refugee by an independent tribunal, the reminder of being detained as a torture survivor is torture itself. The policy allowed the Home Office to turn a blind eye to my suffering and the suffering of hundreds of other torture survivors.”

Medical Justice claims it had raised concerns about the policy increasing the risk of harm to detainees directly with the Home Office, but that they were dismissed. 

The BBC reports the Home office says it does not intend to appeal against the ruling, which said aspects of its policy were unlawful. Some of these concerns were raised in an open letter published in The Guardian in July. 

A spokesman for Medical Justice said: “Narrowing the definition of torture by the Home Office demonstrates its sheer contempt for vulnerable detainees whose lives it is responsible for.  The Home Office should have welcomed our evidence of the policy’s harm suffered by torture victims, not dismissed it. 

“There is ample justification for immediately releasing all detained adults at risk so they can access the care and support they need in the community.  We believe that The Home Office’s denials of systemic healthcare failings for over a decade has enabled mistreatment of detainees and that its inability to stop abuse means that the only solution is to close immigration removal centres.” 

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “We welcome today’s ruling – but it is a damning indictment of our Government that this sickening policy ever saw the light of day. In the UK in 2017, the Home Secretary ignored medical expertise, basic humanity and the law to sign off a barbaric policy to lock up traumatised torture survivors.

“It is symptomatic of a vicious approach to immigration detention that sees thousands of people locked up in brutal conditions around the UK, with no certainty of when or if they will be released. Until that ends, this Government is endorsing abuse.”

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