Garden Court Chambers and Duncan Lewis Solicitors announce 'ground-breaking judgment'
Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) finds Secretary of State breached Article 2 obligations following death of immigration detainee
14 April 2021
In a significant new judgment today, the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) has found the Secretary of State for the Home Department (SSHD) to be in breach of her procedural obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in respect of deaths in immigration detention.
While the judgment by Mr Justice Lane and Upper Tribunal Judge Canavan has not yet been officially reported by the Upper Tribunal, a scanned PDF copy can be downloaded here from the Garden Court Chambers website.
In a joint press release, Garden Court Chambers and Duncan Lewis Solicitors said: "This is a ground-breaking judgment that marks the first time that the Secretary of State has been held accountable for her role, and failure, in ensuring the effective investigation of deaths in the immigration detention estate. It is also represents a first in confirming that the duty to ensure an effective investigation under Article 2 ECHR affects the exercise of the Secretary of State's immigration powers. The SSHD cannot frustrate or undermine an inquiry into how and in what circumstances a vulnerable person died where Article 2 ECHR is engaged."
The case concerns the death of 36-year-old Oscar Lucky Okwurime, who was found dead in his cell in Harmondsworth immigration removal centre (IRC) near Heathrow on 12 September 2019 following a spontaneous subarachnoid haemorrhage.
According to Garden Court Chambers and Duncan Lewis, Mr Okwurime had tried but failed to secure healthcare since his arrival at Harmondsworth IRC. He had also not been provided with his obligatory GP appointment within 24 hours of arrival.
A coroner's inquest last November found that neglect contributed to the death, as an earlier blood pressure reading demonstrating that Mr Okwurime had Grade II hypertension was not repeated at Harmondsworth due to multiple failures to adhere to healthcare policy. The death was found to be unnatural by a jury.
Following Mr Okwurime's death, the Secretary of State had continued with plans to remove a number of potential witnesses, despite a legal requirement to assist a coronial inquest by identifying and securing evidence from potential witnesses. This included the applicant in today's Upper Tribunal judgement, who was a friend of Mr Okwurime and an important witness to events at Harmondsworth. The Upper Tribunal held that the Secretary of State's attempt to remove the applicant was unlawful.
Garden Court Chambers and Duncan Lewis said in their press release: "This case … demonstrates serious failings on behalf of the SSHD in developing any or adequate policies to ensure against compromising an investigation into a death in custody. Serious failings within the detention estate that led to a death in detention were compounded by the failures of the SSHD to comply with her Article 2 ECHR procedural requirements and ensure that best evidence was available for the subsequent coronial inquest."
Garden Court Chambers and Duncan Lewis added that the case also represents a vindication of the rule of law and access to justice, guaranteed by judicial review.