Mr Justice Linden finds former military barracks was unsuitable to accommodate destitute asylum seekers
High Court rules Home Secretary acted unlawfully in housing asylum seekers in inadequate accommodation at Napier Barracks
03 June 2021
In a significant judgment handed down today, the High Court has ruled that the Home Secretary acted unlawfully in housing asylum seekers at a former military barracks in Kent (members of EIN can read the judgment here).
As we reported on EIN in recent months, the use of former military barracks to house asylum seekers during the Covid-19 pandemic attracted widespread criticism from refugee groups, leading to legal action being launched by six asylum seekers.
Deighton Pierce Glynn represented four of the claimants and Matthew Gold Solicitors represented two.
Matthew Gold Solicitors said in a statement today: "In a damning and much awaited judgment handed down today … the High Court found that the Home Secretary's decision to use Napier Barracks to accommodate destitute asylum seeking men was unlawful and irrational. Mr Justice Linden found that the Napier barracks, with its detention-like feel, overcrowded dormitory accommodation and lack of privacy was unsuitable to accommodate destitute asylum seekers and contributed to a significant deterioration in the mental and physical health of residents."
Sue Willman and Emily Soothill of Deighton Pierce Glynn commented: "Based on government evidence, the High Court has found that the Home Secretary acted both unlawfully and irrationally in accommodating our clients at Napier Barracks, placing them at risk of a fire and contracting COVID-19, both of which happened. People seeking asylum are more vulnerable to physical and mental illness. They have the right to be treated with dignity and should not be accommodated in detention-style barracks. Almost 300 people are still accommodated at Napier and we urge Priti Patel to close the Barracks once and for all."
Antonia Benfield of Doughty Street Chambers said: "Today's judgment is highly significant in reinforcing the standards of adequate accommodation for those seeking international protection in the UK. Since the introduction of contingency asylum support accommodation, there have been a range of concerns about the accommodation, which the Home Office has failed to remedy. The accommodation at Napier Barracks has been widely criticised since its inception, and despite repeated concerns being raised about vulnerable asylum seekers being accommodation in such conditions, which exposed them to a risk of harm including Covid-19 infection, the Home Office has failed to acknowledge and act upon those concerns.
"The actions of the Home Office have been stark in circumstances where a significant number of vulnerable men who were not suitable for accommodation in former military barracks were placed there, and where the evidence overwhelmingly supported that the accommodation was unsuitable for a significant majority of residents and resulted in a significant decline in their mental health.
"The case is important in establishing the individual rights and entitlements of the individual claimants but more broadly in establishing the unlawful conduct of the Home Office to vulnerable asylum seekers who are wholly reliant upon the Government for support. The case is further testament to the huge importance of voluntary sector organisations and NGOs who provided a lifeline and critical support to residents at Napier Barracks, throughout the litigation and beyond, ensuring that they were able to access levels of support which the Home Office had unlawfully failed to provide them."
Satbir Singh, the Chief Executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), said in a statement: "Today's judgment proves that this Government not only ignores its own rules, but that it is reckless with people's lives. Asylum seekers were unlawfully detained in appalling, crowded conditions. This was against all COVID guidance and Priti Patel had full knowledge that it would cause an outbreak.
"Abandoned, ramshackle military barracks are totally unsuitable sites to house anyone, much less victims of torture or trafficking and people fleeing atrocities. To do so was a cruel and politically motivated decision from a government that consistently puts people's lives in danger and hopes to get away with it. There is no place for sites like these in our communities and they must be shut down immediately."
Deighton Pierce Glynn said they have not yet been informed whether the Home Secretary will seek to appeal today's judgment.
In response to the judgment, a Home Office spokesman was quoted by BBC News as saying: "During the height of the pandemic, to ensure asylum seekers were not left destitute, additional accommodation was required at extremely short notice. Such accommodation provided asylum seekers a safe and secure place to stay. Throughout this period our accommodation providers and sub-contractors have made improvements to the site and continue to do so.
"It is disappointing that this judgment was reached on the basis of the site prior to the significant improvement works which have taken place in difficult circumstances."