Home Office settles case for unlawfully detaining mentally ill migrant

Monday 9 December 2013

R (on the application of) A (a protected party by his litigation friend the Official Solicitor) CO/6805/2010 On Friday, the High Court approved a substantial financial settlement by the Secretary of State in the unlawful detention case of A, a Kurdish citizen of Iraq who lacks capacity to make decisions about his own welfare owing to serious mental disorder.

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A was detained under the Immigration Acts for a total of almost three years, interspersed with admissions to psychiatric hospital. During his last protracted period of immigration detention he became so ill with untreated psychosis that he suffered hallucinations and profound distress. His tendency to hide the severity of his symptoms and self-isolate were well known by his treating team at the hospital with responsibility for his care.

However, an immigration officer decided to move him away from his treating team to an Immigration Removal centre in Dover to 'unbalance him' in an attempt to secure his agreement to a voluntary removal to Iraq. But A had no capacity to consent to such removal. The nature of his condition was not known or understood by staff at the Immigration Removal centre where he was held for many months because no removals to Iraq were possible for Kurds like A at the time. Attempts by local in-reach psychiatrists to alert the Home Office to his deteriorating state were rejected on the grounds that they had come from 'third parties' with no authority to intervene on his behalf.

Finally after the intervention of specialist solicitor Julie Cornes at Maxwell Gillott, A's detention was challenged by a judicial review which prompted a decision by the Home Secretary to transfer A to hospital. A was represented in his claim by his litigation friend, the Official Solicitor. A has now been diagnosed with 'treatment resistant schizophrenia' owing to his protracted period of untreated psychosis or, as the reporting psychiatrist put it 'brain scarring'. Following a hearing in summer 2012, the claim was adjourned and it was subsequently conceded by the Secretary of State that A's detention had been unlawful.

Julie Cornes said:
"This case throws into sharp relief the problems inherent in a policy of detaining people with mental illness in a completely inappropriate environment with little or no access to skilled diagnosis, care and treatment. Although it would of course have been better for A if he had not been treated this way, we are glad that through the hard work of our team and barrister Amanda Weston of Garden Court Chambers we have succeeded in securing a just settlement for a very vulnerable man."

Amanda Weston said:
"Speaking for myself, it is shaming that a vulnerable mentally ill man should suffer as this man did, that his suffering should fall on deaf ears and that the Home Office persists in this reckless and inhumane policy of detaining mentally ill people in a system not designed or resourced to care for them."

Amanda Weston is a member of the Garden Court Public and Administrative Law Team.

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