High court orders Home Office to compensate four asylum seekers and says it failed to follow own policy on torture victims
The ruling at the high court is likely to pave the way for more than 100 other torture victims who were wrongly detained to seek compensation.
The Home Office has been ordered by the high court to pay compensation to four torture survivors who were unlawfully held in British immigration detention centres.
More than 100 other torture victims who have been wrongly detained are expected to make compensation claims following the test case ruling. A fifth case was settled at the doors of the court. The amount of compensation is being negotiated.
Mr Justice Burnett, who made the ruling, said he found it disturbing that the Home Office’s own rules, which require those who claim to have suffered torture to be medically examined and released from detention, had not been followed.
The case, brought by Medical Justice, a network of asylum detainees and doctors, and the Helen Bamber Foundation, followed the publication of a dossier of 50 cases of torture survivors who had been routinely detained in immigration detention centres.
Medical Justice says it has issued more than 100 “medico-legal” reports prepared by volunteer doctors for detained torture survivors each year who may now claim compensation.
The campaigners say rule 35 of the 2001 detention centre rules, which were designed to prevent torture victims being locked up, have been routinely flouted. Rule 35 requires that those who have been tortured should be identified by medical staff, medically examined and a report sent to UK Border Agency officials who should decide whether to order their release.
The ruling also follows criticism from the United Nations high commissioner for refugees that inadequate screening processes meant rape victims and torture survivors who claimed asylum in Britain could find themselves being led off to a detention centre in handcuffs.
The case has already led to a change in the Home Office guidance on the operation of rule 35.
A Home Office spokesperson said the findings of the complex judgment would be considered very carefully. “Although we are disappointed with aspects of the ruling, we note that the high court has endorsed our wider policy regarding the detainment of former torture victims.”
She said that those who had survived torture were normally only considered suitable for detention in very exceptional circumstances “but there may be times when it is necessary to detain individuals before they are removed from the UK.”
Burnett said the Home Office had failed to apply its own rules, with independent reports of evidence of torture not being recognised or acted upon.
Jamie Beagent, of the law firm Leigh Day, who represented the torture victims, said that in each of the cases the Home Office had failed to follow its own rules. “Obvious physical evidence such as scarring was missed and reports were not prepared on time or at all. In most cases a detainee’s allegation of torture was recorded without any actual medical assessment or concerns raised. In turn, Home Office caseworkers simply accepted these reports without seeking more information and dismissed allegations on the basis that the caseworker did not believe the detainee.”
Natasha Tsangarides, of Medical Justice, said: “This judgment demonstrates the contempt in which the Home Office holds the rule of law. All the victims were found to have been imprisoned unlawfully, which shows that Home Office safeguards to prevent the detention of torture survivors are not working.”
The cases included that of a Nigerian who had been the driver of a politician who had been forced from office and believed his employee was involved in some way. The victim’s father had been killed and he had been tortured and severely beaten and still had injuries and scarring. The high court judge said a DVD of a failed attempt to remove him which included a struggle and the man being handcuffed made for “disturbing viewing”.
Another case involved a woman who had fled Bolivia after being raped and repeatedly beaten by an armed drug trafficking gang who had shot her partner after they arrived in London.