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Assistant Director of King's Legal Clinic wins judicial review against Home Office over housing for asylum seekers

The High Court found that Napier Barracks provided inadequate accommodation for asylum seekers, that the process for selecting people to be accommodated at the Barracks was flawed and unlawful, and that residents were unlawfully detained under purported Covid rules.

Sue Willman

On 3 June 2021, Sue Willman, Assistant Director and Supervising Solicitor of King’s Legal Clinic and Senior Consultant at Deighton Pierce Glynn, won a judicial review against the Home Office in the High Court over housing for asylum seekers in the Napier Barracks in Folkstone, Kent.

The case centred on a claim brought forward by six asylum seekers accommodated in the barracks between September 2020 and February 2021.

The Court heard evidence that the Home Secretary had approved the use of the barracks accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the advice of Public Health England that it was not safe, and of fundamental failures of leadership and planning by the Home Office.

In addition, the evidence presented showed that the Claimants had been exposed to unacceptable fire risks, which had not been adequately addressed, and there was inadequate safeguarding in place, with a third of residents feeling suicidal.

The Court found that the accommodation at the Barracks did not comply with section 96 IAA 1999 read with Directive 2013/9/EC, which sets out “minimum standards” for the reception of asylum seekers and the process for selecting people to be accommodated at the Napier Barracks was flawed and unlawful.

The Court also found that the Claimants were unlawfully detained, both under common law and Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on 15 January 2021 when residents were instructed they were not allowed to leave the Barracks.

Speaking on the judgement, Sue Willman said “Based on government evidence, the High Court has found that the Home Secretary acted both unlawfully and irrationally in accommodating our clients at Napier Barracks, placing them at risk of fire and contracting COVID-19, both of which happened. People seeking asylum are more vulnerable to physical and mental illness. They have the right to be treated with dignity and should not be accommodated in detention-style barracks.”

Almost 250 people are still accommodated at Napier and we urge Priti Patel to close the Barracks once and for all, as they are still at risk from COVID-19 and other infections such as TB and scabies– Sue Willman, Assistant Director and Supervising Solicitor of King’s Legal Clinic and Senior Consultant at Deighton Pierce Glynn

Sue continued, “In the context of the work of the Legal Clinic we know that many of those who risk their lives crossing the Channel or take other dangerous routes to the UK are the victims of torture and trafficking; they are in need of safe mechanisms to claim protection in the UK.”

There are currently over 265 residents in the Napier Barracks, despite ongoing concerns from senior public health officials that the site cannot be made COVID-19 secure. Since 9 April 2021, more than 45 individuals have been transferred to alternative sites on the grounds of vulnerability and following the threat or issuing of legal proceedings.

On the judgement, Mr Justice Linden noted whether “improvements will address the fundamental issues in relation to the use of the Barracks to accommodate asylum seekers remains to be seen.”

Sue Willman joined King’s in January 2020 and set up the Human Rights & Environment Clinic, which focuses on public interest cases and research projects which aim to protect the environment and promote human rights.

One of King’s Legal Clinic’s central aims is to promote social justice. It achieves this in several ways, including by providing advice to migrants and refugees through the Generalist Immigration & Asylum Clinic; the Protea Clinic which provides specialist legal advice and assistance to vulnerable migrant females; and King’s support of the Refugee Law Clinic at the University of London.

Sue was recently named The Times: Lawyer of the week for her role in the Napier Barracks judgement. More information on the case from Deighton Pierce Glynn can be found here.

Find out more about how King’s is contributing to understanding and responding to the global issue of forced displacement and helping to realise the educational potential of refugees on theKing’s Sanctuary Programme webpage.

In this story

Sue Willman

Sue Willman

Assistant Director of King's Legal Clinic and Lecturer in Law (Education)