Immigration: Serious failings within Government system carry 'high risk of unfairness' for asylum seekers, says High Court judge

Inadequate checks mean that the most vulnerable asylum seekers, such as victims of torture, are not being identified

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The Independent Online

A High Court judge has ruled that a system for fast-tracking asylum claims has “serious failings” and is being operated unlawfully by the Government.

The Detained Fast Track system (DFT), which keeps asylum seekers in detention while a decision on their case is speeded through by the Home Office, is used for around a fifth of people claiming asylum in the UK.

The system was intended for only the most straightforward cases, to cut down the administrative burden and the risk of people disappearing. But instead victims of torture, human trafficking and rape are wrongly caught in it, Mr Justice Ouseley said today.

The Judge found several serious failings within the system and particularly highlighted the unjustifiable delay in allocating lawyers. This, he said, meant “the DFT as operated carries an unacceptably high risk of unfairness”.

Shadow Minister for Immigration, David Hanson, said: "This ruling is an embarrassment for the government who administer a system that is judged inherently unfair and has now lost credibility. We need strong borders with fair and effective decision making but unfortunately the Home Secretary is failing on nearly all counts.  

“This unfair policy putting at risk the UK’s history in providing shelter for those fleeing from rape, torture and oppression so Theresa May needs to urgently fix the system and ensure our asylum system makes fair, effective and quick decisions.”

Inadequate checks mean that the most vulnerable asylum seekers, such as victims of torture, are not being identified and pulled out of the fast track.

Mr Justice Ouseley said: “In too high a proportion of cases, and in particular for those which might be sensitive, the conscientious lawyer does not have time to do properly what may need doing.”

He also demanded that the system be changed to allow the earlier instruction of lawyers.

The case was brought by the charity Detention Action against the Home Office. The charity’s director Jerome Phelps said: “We are delighted that the High Court has recognised that asylum seekers are being detained in an unlawful process. 

"It is unfortunate that the government has spent years ignoring such warnings from UN and independent monitoring bodies. This is good news for people in detention facing return to torture, but it is also good news for British justice.”

The Helen Bamber Foundation reports experiencing a significant increase in referrals of survivors of torture, human trafficking and other forms of human cruelty to them from the Detained Fast Track. The foundation is now calling for an urgent review of its operation.  

TJ Birdi, executive director of the Helen Bamber Foundation, said: “For years we have worked with survivors of extreme human cruelty who have been routed into the detained fast track for administrative reasons, not because of any crime. We welcome this decision highlighting the unfairness of a system that compounds the psychological trauma of those who deserve to be protected, and recognises the injustices people have had to endure.”

The policy was introduced in 2002 at a time when there were four times as many asylum applications and experts argue it is no longer proportionate. Since 2008, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed concern about the operation of the UK’s Detained Fast Track process in published audits of the DFT.

Raj, a survivor of torture from Sri Lanka who was released from the Detained Fast Track last month, said: “The whole DFT process overwhelmed me. The fear of returning to Sri Lanka gave me flashbacks of my torture. No one told me what was going on. It felt like they had decided not to believe me even before we started the interview. It was like a show trial. They just wanted me out of the room, out of the country, as fast as possible.”

Refugee Council chief executive, Maurice Wren, said: “Today’s judgment is extremely significant. However, it fails to acknowledge the reality that the Detained Fast Track system is fundamentally unjust and can never achieve fairness.

“The whole purpose of the Detained Fast Track is to condemn innocent people to a Kafkaesque procedure, solely on the say-so of Home Office officials, because it’s politically and administratively convenient to do so.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are considering the judgment in detail and concentrating in particular on the areas in which the court said we need to improve.

“The judgment is complex and until the court has ruled on its effect it would be premature to comment on the precise implications.  

“Detained Fast Track is a process that is playing a significant role in saving taxpayers money by allowing us to remove those with no right to be in UK at the earliest opportunity and will continue to be a key part of the government’s response to managing asylum numbers.”