A child looks out from an immigration processing centre at Manston, a former UK airfield [Hannah McKay/Reuters]

At a 4-hour hearing on 5 December 2023 the High Court (Eyre J) granted permission to 10 claimants represented by Wilson Solicitors’ Public Law and Human Rights team in a judicial review which seeks an Article 3 ECHR compliant inquiry into events at the controversial Manston detention facility in 2022. A full hearing is expected to take place in the Spring of 2024.

The clients Wilson represents are a Syrian refugee family with five young children, a young woman who was trafficked for sexual exploitation, and two men who experienced ill-treatment and trauma on their journeys to the UK.

The conditions at Manston in the relevant period have been widely reported and include: severely overcrowded tented living accommodation; inadequate sanitation and washing facilities; failures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases; inadequate access to healthcare; safeguarding failures; allegations of assault and racist abuse. In addition, our clients and many others like them were unlawfully detained in breach of a 24 hour time limit on detention in holding room facilities; and there were failings in screening and other safeguards designed to minimise the detention of people who are recognised to be particularly at risk of serious harm in detention. It has been reported that the former Home Secretary repeatedly failed to respond to advice and warnings about the unfolding crisis at Manston.

Our clients first wrote to the Home Secretary requesting an inquiry on in November 2022. In January 2023 the Home Secretary accepted that there was credible evidence that conditions at Manston in the relevant period arguably breached Article ECHR, triggering a duty to promptly establish an independent and effective investigation into what had occurred. In February 2023 the Home Secretary first wrote to the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) requesting that he carry out an investigation. Further correspondence between the claimants, the Home Secretary and the ICIBI ensued, with the claimants making clear their position that to be effective the investigation must include powers to compel the production of documents and attendance of witnesses; public hearings; and funded legal representation to ensure the claimants’ effective participation.

Our 10 clients issued judicial review proceedings on 19 May 2023, with a further group of 6 claimants (represented by Duncan Lewis) issuing a separate claim around one week later. The claims were formally joined in June 2023, with the ICIBI added as an Interested Party. In early September 2023, Home Office lawyers provided the court with information which led a judge (Swift J) to understand that the arrangements for the ICIBI’s investigation had been “settled”. The court was not told that the Home Secretary had decided not to renew the current ICIBI’s appointment when it expires in March 2024, a decision that had been in contemplation since at least December 2022. This meant that the person appointed to lead the Manston investigation would be unable to see it through, with a real prospect that a replacement ICIBI would not be in post when Mr Neal’s term comes to an end in March 2023.

As at the hearing on 5 December 2022, an initial scoping exercise by investigators commissioned by the ICIBI was underway; this is due to report in January 2023. There is no timescale for the start of the investigation or its completion. Whilst Mr Neal has committed to “supporting a smooth transition” of the Manston investigation to his successor, it is unclear who will lead the investigation if no successor is in post when his term comes to an end, and other issues such as resourcing remain unresolved.

It was in this context that Eyre J granted permission to the claimants to argue their case at a full hearing that the steps taken by the Home Secretary fall short of compliance with Article 3 requirements.

The Wilson clients are represented by barristers Angus McCullough KC, with Shu Shin Luh and Leonie Hirst.

The Wilson team is led by partner Jed Pennington together with solicitors Katya Novakovic and Sam Mason, and trainee solicitors Maeve Fennelly and Sara Snakenbroek Bellieni. Our Public Law & Human Rights team is also representing a total of 35 clients in claims for damages arising out of their unlawful detention and ill-treatment at Manston.

The Independent’s coverage of the case is available here.

If you would like to instruct Felicity to help you with a family law case, please contact family department secretary, Mavis, for an appointment on 0202 8885 7986.

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