Brook House Inquiry into mistreatment and abuse in immigration detention recognised in shortlist for Halsbury Rule of Law Award at LexisNexis Legal Awards 2023

Thursday 23 March 2023

Members of the Garden Court Chambers Inquiries Team jointly shortlisted for Halsbury Rule of Law Award at LexisNexis Legal Awards 2023 for their vital work on the Brook House Inquiry.

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The importance of the work of the Brook House Public Inquiry into mistreatment and abuse of those detained in immigration detention facilities has been recognised in the shortlist for this year’s Halsbury Rule of Law Award at the LexisNexis Legal Awards, taking place tonight.

It is at a critical time as the government embarks on unprecedented legislation to remove basic legal protections, denying rights to seek asylum and authorising indefinite detention without any adequate judicial oversight for vast numbers of people, including those most at risk of serious harm in detention, including children, pregnant women, the mentally ill and victims of torture, sexual violence, human trafficking and other serious mistreatment.  Just as with the Casey Inquiry Review into the Metropolitan Police Service, the Brook House Inquiry was tasked with investigating systemic and institutional failures of law, policy and practice by the Home Office and G4S , its staff and senior officials, and mismanagement at all levels, which contributed to entrenched cultures of impunity, abuse and racism. 

The widespread misuse of the powers of immigration detention in breach of the law and safeguards, including physical and verbal abuse, toxic macho cultures, and racism at Brook House IRC was exposed by a 2017 BBC Panorama undercover report by Callum Tully, a former G4S guard.  Although the Home Office fought tooth and nail against it, following a successful judicial review a Statutory Public Inquiry was finally instituted in 2019, with public hearings in 2021 and 2022, which is due to report shortly.  The evidence uncovered confirmed that the violence and misuse of force exposed by Panorama was likely to only be “the tip of the iceberg”, that, in fact, practices in detention centres including the use of force and segregation were commonplace despite being unlawful and inappropriate.

The Inquiry heard extensive evidence that showed ongoing systemic failure of detention safeguards, with very high numbers of vulnerable people in detention, experiencing high levels of mental distress and deterioration,  including self-harm and suicidal ideation, where political imperatives of removal particularly on charter flights were prioritised over fundamental rights and welfare. Institutional cultures amongst staff, including medical staff and managers, were marked by dehumanization and othering, where violent, derogatory language, stereotyping and racism flourished with no effective oversight or sanction.

Conversely, the Inquiry heard little evidence of any serious lesson learning by the Home Office or G4S even by 2022. The Independent Monitoring Board described similar practices with regards to charter flights operating at Brook House in 2020, when the Home Office intensified removals to Europe before Brexit, which it found caused “inhumane treatment of the entire detained population”.  Since then the Home Office has been found to have operated facilities such as Napier Barracks and Manston unlawfully and with similar disregard for the rights and welfare of those held there.

The Illegal Migration Bill now seeks to provide some form of legal cover for these abusive practices or else put them beyond the law. The evidence considered by the Brook House Inquiry, shows beyond doubt, that if implemented, the Bill is only likely to repeat the same “inhumane treatment”, causing suffering and harm on an unprecedented scale and intensity.  It certainly presents the gravest of threats to the Rule of law. That this draconian policy should have been embarked upon before the Brook House Statutory Inquiry reports, further underscores the reckless disregard for the law, accountability and respect for fundamental rights that caused or contributed to the conditions for the appalling mistreatment and abuse that necessitated the  Brook House Inquiry. 

The legal teams acting on behalf of individual detained persons and whistleblower Reverend Nathan Ward were Stephanie Harrison KC, Louise Hooper, Gordon Lee, Una Morris and Alex Schymyck of the Garden Court Inquiries Team with Alex Goodman of Landmark Chambers, instructed by Lewis Kett of Duncan Lewis Solicitors.

Stephanie Harrison KC and Kirsten Heaven of Garden Court Chambers is acting for individuals, and Medical Justice with Shu Shin Luh and Laura Profumo of Doughty Street, instructed by Hamish Arnott of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors.

Una Morris of Garden Court Chambers is acting for individuals and the Gatwick Detainee Welfare Group, with Nick Armstrong and Jesse Nicholls of Matrix Chambers, instructed by Joanna Thompson and Mark Hylands of Deighton Pierce Glynn.

A detailed briefing of the key issues of the Brook House Inquiry, prepared by Medical Justice, is available to download here.

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