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A Tribute to Lord Kerr

Date posted: 7 December 2020

This week we learned of the sad and sudden death of Lord Kerr, recently retired from the Supreme Court. He was a judge who had sat on a number of Wilsons cases over the past few years. He was widely regarded as a decent, kind and empathetic judge.

Aisling Ni Chuinn , a partner in our immigration department, has written a short tribute on behalf of the firm.

On behalf of the partners at Wilson Solicitors LLP I would like to extend our most sincere condolences to the family of Lord Kerr, who passed away this week, and share this short tribute to him.

My first experience of Lord Kerr was in 2014, when he wrote the judgment of the Supreme Court in EM Eritrea [2014] UKSC 12. There were four appellants in the case challenging the Home Office’s decision to remove them to Italy under the Dublin Regulation. Two of the appellants were Wilsons’ clients, one of whom was my client AE. AE’s account of what she experienced while homeless and destitute as a lone woman in Italy for many months was horrific. The lower courts acknowledged AE’s ‘terrible ordeal’ and the risk that the same thing could happen to her again if she was removed to Italy, but felt constrained by the existing caselaw to refuse her case.

When I read Lord Kerr’s judgment in EM, what really struck me was the humanity of it. I had met AE at a legal advice surgery in Yarl’s Wood detention centre in 2011, and when preparing her witness statement under the pressure of removal directions at that time I never thought that one day Lord Kerr (and the other Supreme Court justices) would read her statement. And when I read Lord Kerr’s judgment I really feel that he heard and felt her story, and in contemplating the reality of what would happen to AE (and the other appellants) on return to Italy, he allowed that to inform his decision. I found it so remarkable that AE, through her statement given while detained in Yarl’s Wood, got to speak to Lord Kerr, and that he listened. In the judgment Lord Kerr refers to the appalling degradation suffered by AE and the awful but distinct possibility that something of the same will happen again if she is returned to that country and questions how the Court of Appeal could have applied the correct test if it would allow this to happen.

What also struck me about Lord Kerr’s decision in EM was the logic and common sense of it. In the months that followed when I was back in court with other Italy cases in which EM was being applied I would hear Treasury counsel in conversation talk about the decision in EM as being the only logical conclusion the Supreme Court could have reached, even though for years they had argued against such a conclusion. It is a great testament to Lord Kerr and the clarity he brought to this contentious area of law that even those who had argued otherwise, on reflection agreed with him.