Victory for asylum campaigners as fast-track suspended

Asylum seekers and their legal representatives scored a major victory today after the much-hated fast-track detention system was suspended.

Immigration minister James Brokenshire made the announcement following a legal case which found the appeals process under the system was so unfair as to be unlawful.

The decision suggests new safeguards could be put in place to make sure asylum seekers are given a fair hearing to make their case to stay in the UK before they face deportation.

"Recently the system has come under significant legal challenge, including on the appeals stage of the process," Brokenshire said.

"Risks surrounding the safeguards within the system for particularly vulnerable applicants have also been identified to the extent that we cannot be certain of the level of risk of unfairness to certain vulnerable applicants who may enter DFT [detained fast-track].

"In light of these issues, I have decided to temporarily suspend the operation of the detained fast track policy. I hope this pause to be short in duration, perhaps only a matter of weeks, but I will only resume operation of this policy when I am sure the right structures are in place to minimise any risk of unfairness."

Jerome Phelps, director of Detention Action, which brought the case, commented:

"We hope that today will mark the end of the UK's routine detention of asylum-seekers.  It is a further step away from the systematic overuse of detention that was rightly criticised by a cross-party parliamentary inquiry this year.

"We hope that the Home Office will accept the judgements of the courts and work with civil society to build an asylum system that is both fast and fair, with alternatives to detention that are both cheaper and more just."
The detained fast-track system allowed the Home Office to detain asylum seekers simply for claiming asylum and then keep them incarcerated as it engaged in an accelerated legal process.

It overwhelmingly found against almost any asylum seeker on first hearing, although many then had their cases accepted on appeal.

But even this appeal process was found to be so unfair as to be unlawful recently in a high court case against the home secretary.

It found that asylum seekers were not given the time or freedom necessary to accumulate the evidence for their case and that it was systematically unfair for the person trying to have them removed – the home secretary – to be the same person deciding the basis upon which their case would proceed.

Bamidele, a member of the Freed Voices group, whose asylum claim was heard and rejected on the detained fast-track, said:

"The detained fast-track is nothing short of a kangaroo court. I received no fair trial, the result was fixed from the moment I walked in the room. The stress left my health in tatters. So much so, that they eventually had to release me.

"Four years later, with time to properly make my case, I was given leave to remain. The detained fast-track belongs on the scrapheap of UK human rights history."

Many asylum seekers, who have been imprisoned and tortured in their home country, suffer severe mental health problems when they are subject to indefinite detention when they arrive in the UK.

The fast-track system has now been ruled to be unlawful three times, but only the most recent case managed to force ministers into suspending it.