Secret Home Office policy of detaining people in NHS debt at airport deemed illegal | home office
A secret Home Office policy to detain people with the right to live in the UK at airports and seaports has been ruled illegal by the High Court.
The policy applied to those with unpaid NHS debts and was only uncovered by evidence gathered from charities and lawyers fighting the cases of two mothers who were repeatedly detained.
The women were detained in ports as they tried to return to the UK after trips abroad to visit family because they had outstanding debts to the NHS for maternity care – debts which the Home Office was aware of when it granted them permission to remain in the UK.
While the women were only detained with their children for short periods, they did not know when they would be released.
Border Force officials arrested them and investigated because they were flagged on the Home Office system as having unpaid NHS debts.
In a judgment delivered today, Judge Chamberlain found that the two women and their young children had been falsely imprisoned by the Home Secretary without justification. It also concluded that Suella Braverman had failed in her duty to consider the impact of equality policy on women, who are known to be disproportionately affected by NHS billing.
The Home Office was asked during the case to confirm the existence of the policy and publish it, but declined to do so. He has now finally leaked the policy and said it is being rewritten.
The women who brought the case are from Mali and Albania respectively. The woman from Mali is a survivor of FGM and has incurred debts with the NHS due to multiple miscarriages and a stillbirth. Her debt is called into question because she was a victim of FGM. Albanian woman repays debt to NHS.
Ruling in favor of the women, the judge concluded that the Home Office’s unpublished policy of arresting people at airports and seaports was unlawful.
In his decision, he said: “If such a policy is not published, there is a danger that a practice will develop… which can only be discerned by piecing together the testimonies given by a large number of individuals. to their respective attorneys. The result may be that large numbers of people are unlawfully detained before the practice can be identified and the illegality exposed.
“At that time, however, it is likely to have been applied to a very large number of people. It would have been much better for all concerned if the policy had been published and its illegality recognized sooner.
Both women welcomed the judgment. The Albanian woman, who has been detained at least eight times, said: “I was detained with my children every time we went home to see my family for the past eight years. This made us dread approaching immigration control as we just didn’t know how long they would hold us or even if they would let us pass.
“I am really relieved that the judge agreed with us that officers cannot use detention powers in this way. I welcome the Home Office’s decision to change its policy for people like me who have lived legally in the UK for years and just want to be able to return home.
Janet Farrell of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, who represented the two women, said: “The detention of our clients was humiliating and painful. This judgment shows how vital it is that policies regarding the use of coercive powers such as detention are published so that victims can hold the government to account in the courts in a meaningful way.
A government spokesman said: ‘The Home Office is carefully considering the implications of the judgment. The amended guidelines will be updated and posted shortly.