A Home Office policy which gives people as little as 72 hours’ notice before they are deported from the UK is a barrier to justice and has led to a series of unlawful removals, lawyers warn.
Ministers have had to return a number of deportees back to the UK after they were removed under the “removal notice window” (RNW) policy, which gives individuals between 72 hours and seven days’ notice that they can be removed without further warning at any time.
Campaigners said it was often “practically impossible” for people issued with deportation orders to go through all the steps required to challenge removal in this amount of time.
The RNW policy is being challenged in court this week by charity Medical Justice, after the Administrative Court ruled it was lawful in September 2019.
One Jamaican national who was unlawfully detained and almost wrongly deported under the policy described it as the “most inhumane and unjust process”.
The man, who didn’t wish to be named, had lived legally in the UK for nearly 30 years when he was detained and threatened with removal in 2017.
He had asked the Home Office for a new stamp to show he had indefinite leave to remain when replacing a lost passport, but the department had lost their records and he was stripped of his immigration status, meaning he couldn’t access NHS care and was let go from a drylining training course he had been excelling in.
“The day I was taken to the detention centre was horrendous. There was no warning at all. It was early in the morning. There was a loud hammering at the door. I looked out of the window and there was a van outside with a huge gang of people in their immigration uniforms,” the man said.
“When I got to the detention centre they took my phone away and gave me another handset to use, but it was useless. It was almost impossible to get a signal. I couldn’t contact anybody to help me. I struggle with dyslexia so I couldn’t understand what the paperwork was saying and nobody would explain what was going on.
“I would queue up all day in the detention centre to try and see a lawyer and when I finally got to see an assistant they said straight away that they couldn’t help.”
He was in detention for about two weeks when he was called in for a meeting and told he was going to be put on a plane to Jamaica in two days’ time. Fortunately, his partner came across a lawyer at the last minute who said he could try and get an injunction, and the injunction came just after 5pm the next day.
Once the injunction was in place, the man had time to prove his immigration status and the Home Office subsequently accepted that he had had indefinite leave to remain since 1990, meaning they should not have tried to remove him. The department also acknowledged that they had detained him unlawfully.
The man said there was "no way" he could have gathered all the evidence needed to prove this – which included Home Office records, tax and NI records, DWP records, GP medical records and local authority records – in the removal notice window he was given.
He added: “Everything about the process was wrong. After living here lawfully for nearly 30 years I was placed in detention with nobody to explain what was happening. I had very limited contact with the outside world and no legal help from inside detention. I just hope that nobody else has to go through what I did.”
Rakesh Singh, solicitor at this Public Law Project, who represented the man and who is representing Medical Justice in court, said it was “by pure luck” that his client avoided removal, and that it was often “practically impossible” to go through all the steps required to challenge removal in the time allowed under the policy.
“I have represented people who were unlawfully detained and removed from the UK because this policy simply denied them the opportunity to put their case before a court. The Home Office has had to return several of our clients who were removed under the RNW policy,” he said.
“All the individuals we represented who the Home Office had to bring back to the UK now have leave to remain. But such cases are rare. In most cases if a person is wrongly removed they may never return to the UK.
“The cases in which we’ve acted are the tip of the iceberg. This is an unjust policy which can have a terrible impact on people’s lives.”
The Home Office disclosed to the court in a previous hearing that between 2015 and 2018 they carried out over 40,000 enforced returns. While it has not disclosed exactly how many of these were “no-notice” removals, it said the majority of returnees would have been served with a RNW.
Medical Justice will argue the policy is unlawful because it poses an “unacceptable risk” of blocking access to justice, in potential breach of the law.
Emma Ginn, director of the charity, said the Home Office had failed to monitor the operation of the policy for years, and therefore did not know how many people had been affected by it – but that tens of thousands may have been affected.
“The consequences of this policy are devastating for the individuals involved and for their families and loved ones. Detention and removal often involve lengthy or permanent separation of families and people being sent to countries where their lives are at risk,” she added.
“Cases where people are removed from the UK without access to legal advice are particularly concerning. As well as the grave implications for access to justice, such cases are unlikely to be detected or reported by any organisation independent of the Home Office. This makes it difficult to know the true extent of the policy’s impact.”
A Home Office spokesperson said they did not routinely comment on individual cases, adding: “Individuals are given at least 72 hours’ notice before removal and have access to legal assistance when required in removal centres, and we will always seek to remove those who have no right to be in the UK who do not leave voluntarily – however as legal proceedings are ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further. “
They said the department regrets any cases of unlawful detention and constantly ensures there are appropriate safeguards in place to prevent this from happening in the future.
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