Legal battle over ‘unlawful detention’ of Jamaican ex-banker

Exclusive: Two legal firms involved in James Matthews’ case have accused the Home Office of unlawful practice, while it has emerged that the department may owe him money

Nadine White
Race Correspondent
Tuesday 17 May 2022 21:29
<p>James Matthews </p>

James Matthews

Home Office officials “unlawfully detained” a Jamaican banker who is facing deportation on Wednesday, his lawyers say.

James Matthews, 33, was awaiting the outcome of his application for leave to remain before being detained in Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre earlier this month and labelled an “overstayer”. He remains in detention ahead of a charter flight that is set to remove around 20 people who all have strong ties to Britain.

The former Jamaica National Bank employee had applied for leave to remain on the basis of his relationship with a British citizen in July 2020, but the Home Office said this application was refused on 2 February this year. However, Mr Matthews says neither he nor his previous legal representatives were notified about this or served with the refusal decision.

In light of this, his representatives at MTC Solicitors say he is still lawfully resident in the UK, with an in-country right of appeal, meaning Mr Matthews’ detention is unlawful, as would be his removal from this country.

A statement from Alison Law Solicitors, Mr Matthews’ previous legal representative, confirms that it did not receive a refusal letter from the Home Office despite officials’ claims to the contrary.

The document, seen by The Independent and dated 16 May, reads: “I confirm that Alison Law Solicitors did not receive a decision from the SSHD Home Office dated 2 February 2022 in relation to Mr James Matthews by post, email or any other form of correspondence.”

James Matthews was detained in Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre earlier this month

A pre-action letter sent to the Home Office by MTC Solicitors requested their client’s immediate removal from detention, the cancellation of his deportation order, a copy of the refusal decision letter, and details of where, how and when the refusal decision was served on their client.

The Home Office replied attaching a copy of the refusal decision letter, saying it was sent to Alison Law Solicitors.

“This refusal letter was not received by our client, nor by his legal representatives at the time, which they have confirmed by way of an email,” solicitor Naga Kandiah told The Independent. “We have now been left with no other choice but to pursue judicial review proceedings, which is a waste of court time and the client’s and taxpayers’ money.”

Mr Kandiah said that Mr Matthews had “done everything in his power to comply with the rules” and accused the Home Office of “failing to justify their inhumane and cruel decision to detain him and put him on the charter flight”.

Moreover, in the event that the Home Office refuses an application for leave to remain, the department is required to refund the immigration health surcharge within six weeks, according to its own guidance. To date, Mr Matthews says he is yet to receive this refund from the Home Office.

‘I am coping as well as I can, but I’m still traumatised,’ says Mr Matthews

“I’ve abided by every single rule. How can I be an ‘overstayer’ when the Home Office hasn’t responded to my application to remain here? As far as I was concerned, I have an active application,” Mr Matthews told The Independent from his cell at Harmondsworth last Friday.

“I’m far from OK; I’m used to having my freedom. I am coping as well as I can, but I’m still traumatised. When they were banging the front door and then I heard someone say my name, I was shocked. I’ve never committed a crime in either this country or Jamaica.”

Mr Matthews came to the UK in October 2019 on a visitor visa, and was unable to return to Jamaica at the time this expired in April 2020, as travel to and from Jamaica was suspended because of the Covid pandemic.

The Home Office extended his stay to 31 July 2020 because of the extenuating circumstances, and he was advised of his right to apply for leave to remain in the UK from within this country – referred to as “in house” – again because of the pandemic. His application was lodged on 28 July 2020.

Home secretary Priti Patel

The couple’s MP, Wes Streeting, has asked the Home Office to halt the deportation.

Most of the Jamaican people facing deportation live with a disability or health problem, and came to Britain as children, according to analysis shared with The Independent.

The government has previously insisted that deportation flights were designed to remove “dangerous foreign criminals” from the UK, however Mr Matthews – a previous candidate for Jamaica’s Constabulary Force – does not meet these criteria and is a law-abiding citizen.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Those with no right to be in the UK, including foreign national offenders, should be in no doubt that we will do whatever is necessary to remove them. This is what the public rightly expects, and why we regularly operate flights to different countries.

“The New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken immigration system and stop the abuse we are seeing by expediting the removal of those who have no right to be here.”

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