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Home Office to compensate pregnant asylum seeker for unlawful detention

The Guardian is carrying a story that the Home Office has settled an unlawful detention claim by a pregnant asylum seeker detained at Yarl’s Wood and has said it will review its policy. The level of compensation is not disclosed.

Detention policy is supposedly that pregnant asylum seekers will not normally be detained, but a report by HM Inspector of Prisons revealed that 99 pregnant asylum seekers were detained in 2014. 90% of them were released into the community again, making their detention particularly cruel and pointless. 

The highly critical report from August 2015 (Damning official reports on The Verne and Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centres) went on to say that Yarl’s Wood was an issue “of national concern”, that Rule 35 reports (for the protection of victims of rape and torture) were among the worst the inspectors had ever seen and that the situation there was deteriorating rapidly rather than improving.

There is not actually a great deal with the detention policy on pregnant women, which is set out in black and white in Chapter 55 of the Enforcement Guidance and Instructions at section 55.9.1:

Pregnant women should not normally be detained. The only exception to this general rule is:
– where removal is imminent and medical advice does not suggest confinement before the due removal date.

The problem is mainly that immigration officials routinely ignore this policy, but Jane Ryan of Bhatt Murphy, the solicitor behind the case, says there are three issues which emerged from the litigation:

Firstly, no notice arrests have a significant and detrimental interference with maternity care in the community. Maternity books are not taken, GPs and midwives are not notified, records are not obtained. Secondly, there is no formal system to “track” pregnant women in detention such that it is not clear how effect is given to the policy. Finally, there needs to be consideration of whether it is possible to introduce a family returns type process for pregnant women with proper and appropriate safeguards in place.

We get a flavour of why more pregnant women are detained than seems to be permitted by the policy from what may be some of the most idiotic comments ever by a Minister of Immigration, Mark Harper, in Hansard 5 Sep 2013 : Column 584:

If we were to do what my hon. Friend suggested and have a blanket policy of not detaining [pregnant] women, first, having read many cases, I fear we would find quite a lot of people saying they were pregnant as another method of delaying their departure from the UK. I have seen people throw many obstacles in the way when they have no right to be here, and I do not want this to be one of them. We are committed to treating pregnant women properly, providing proper health care and treating them well. I do not want this to be an excuse that women who are not pregnant dream up in order to throw a legal obstacle in the way.

With this kind of mentality at work even at the highest level it is no surprise that immigration officials have been grossly in breach of the Home Office’s own policy.

Well done to Jane and the legal team at Bhatt Murphy and to the Royal College of Midwives and Medical Justice who have campaigned on this issue and to my colleagues Stephanie Harrison QC and Michelle Brewer who were instructed in this case.

Colin Yeo
Colin Yeo A barrister specialising in UK immigration law at Garden Court Chambers in London, I have been practising in immigration law for 15 years. I am passionate about immigration law and founded and edit the Free Movement immigration law blog.

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