Home Office loses appeal on Section 55 - major victory against destitution
of asylum seekers
The Law Lords have dismissed the Home Office appeal in the case of three asylum seekers who have been affected by the infamous Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which denies support for in country asylum applicants.
NAAR welcomes the the Law Lords decision, which can be accessed HERE.
Report from BBC
Lords throw out key asylum rule
The Home Office has suffered a major defeat after Law Lords rejected an attempt to enforce a hardline asylum welfare policy.
After a three-year battle the Lords said the Home Secretary was wrong to deny support to asylum seekers if it were to leave them sleeping rough.
The ruling defeats the controversial measure introduced in 2002 by former Home Secretary David Blunkett.
The rule withholds benefits to those who fail to seek asylum on arrival.
Section 55 judgement
Welcoming the victory, asylum and housing agencies called on the government to scrap "Section 55", the immigration rule at the centre of the three-year legal battle.
While the Law Lords do not have the power to strike out legislation, the ruling puts pressure on ministers to change the act.
WHAT IS SECTION 55?
Aimed at preventing illegal immigrants from claiming asylum
Denies food and shelter unless asylum seeker applies at port...
But most asylum seekers apply after going through a port
The rule, championed by former Home Secretary David Blunkett, obliges people to seek asylum at the first reasonably practical opportunity on entering the UK, or lose any benefits.
Ministers said the measure contained in the Asylum and Immigration Act 2002 would be key to preventing illegal entry and working and subsequent attempts by people to prolong their stay once discovered.
But refugee agencies said it completely ignored the fact that the majority of people claim asylum after being in Britain for a few days, largely because of the irregular way they enter the country in the first place.
Separate rules ban asylum seekers from working, meaning those without funds were left relying on family, friends or the wider community, such as churches, for support.
But by early 2004 there were an estimated 500 people sleeping rough in London because of the rule, with up to 700 legal challenges piling up at the High Court.
That prompted a test case by three asylum seekers - Wayoka Limbuela, from Angola, Binyam Tefera Tesema, from Ethiopia, and Yusif Adam, from Sudan.
"I have no doubt that the threshold [of suffering] may be crossed if a late asylum applicant with no means and no alternative sources of support, unable to support himself is, by deliberate action of the state, denied shelter, food or the most basic necessities of life"
Mr Limbuela, from Angola, had claimed asylum the day after arriving in the UK, but was refused support for applying too late.
He slept rough for two nights outside of a police station before being granted temporary support.
Lawyers for the Home Office had argued that it was entitled to wait and see if a withdrawal of benefits led to someone crossing a "threshold of suffering" before being obliged to intervene.
But in May 2004 the Court of Appeal disagreed, saying the Home Office had to do more to ensure that people in these circumstances had access to shelter as a "basic amenity".
Section 55 had therefore breached the fundamental human rights of the three asylum seekers by subjecting them to "inhuman and degrading treatment", held the judges.
In the ruling, Lord Bingham said the Law Lords were not creating a "general public duty to house the homeless" - but that there was nevertheless a duty to prevent foreseeable destitution caused by policy.
"Thousands of people, who arrived here scared, alone and traumatised, were refused basic food and housing by this unjust law and forced to sleep rough on British streets"
Maeve Sherlock, Refugee Council
" I have no doubt that the threshold [of suffering] may be crossed if a late applicant with no means and no alternative sources of support, unable to support himself is, by deliberate action of the state, denied shelter, food or the most basic necessities of life," said Lord Bingham.
The Home Office had already agreed to house those affected prior to the Lords' ruling.
Immigration minister Tony McNulty defended the government's policies, but conceded he would consider changing the rules.
" The judgment leaves intact a fundamental principle within our approach to asylum which is that people should claim as soon as they arrive in the country," said Mr McNulty. "The Law Lords have recognised that there are difficult decisions to be made and each case has to be judged on its individual merits.
" We are adopting tough new means to crack down on opportunistic behaviour. In particular, we are setting up tightly managed new processes for handling late and opportunistic claims.
" The impact of this will be that those who seek to play the system will receive a very quick asylum decision and so will, in reality, have very limited access to benefits."
But Maeve Sherlock of the Refugee Council said: "We are delighted with this unanimous judgement. It was disgraceful that vulnerable refugees were left to starve on the streets.
" Section 55 brought immeasurable harm to many innocent refugees who were guilty of nothing more than asking for protection here.
" Thousands of people, who arrived here scared, alone and traumatised, were refused basic food and housing by this unjust law and forced to sleep rough on British streets.
" A significant proportion of these later would be given refugee status or leave to stay in the UK."