UK Home Office found in breach of the Human Right of Liberty regarding detention practice of asylum seekers

On International Human Rights Day I want to briefly highlight a Human Right violation that has occurred in the UK for asylum seekers regarding the Right to Liberty ~ Sarah Page, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Sociology

You might have seen recent press reports in the Guardian and Independent about the Home Office being found guilty of inappropriate detention of asylum seekers by the Supreme Court. 

Inappropriate detention of asylum seekers occurred between 1st January 2014 and 15th March 2017 due to ineffective policy implementation of Dublin III and those detained in this time frame are entitled to compensation. 

Here in the UK we typically use detention or imprisonment when there has been a crime, or the person is a significant security threat to the public, or briefer periods of detention when a case is being investigated.  

In my own research on asylum seekers in Stoke-on-Trent I found that many asylum seekers are in fear of being detained.  Professionals talked to me about how asylum seekers can be detained for administrative reasons, rather than due to them having committed a crime, or being a significant security threat to the public. 

Asylum seekers are typically nervous about complaining because they fear that complaining might impact upon their application to remain in the UK.  However, some brave asylum seekers have spoken out about their detention experiences and you can listen to an account of a woman detained on the BBC website. A locally based asylum seeker also talked about her experience to the Sentinel newspaper and describes detention as “inhumane”. 

Detention can cause significant deterioration of mental and physical well-being.  When you consider that many asylum seekers have mental health issues from the trauma of what led them to flee their country and the journey they have been on to escape.  Others have been victim to trafficking and exploitation.  It is inappropriate to incarcerate such people.    

Academics across the UK have highlighted that Asylum seeker policies in the UK are restrictive and lack compassion.  Despite media portrayal of the UK flooded with asylum seekers we host less than most European counterparts per population head. Those seeking asylum in the UK only get basic needs met, if that.  Often asylum seekers get insufficient resources to live off – significantly less than a UK citizen on benefits.  Such poverty issues raise Public Health concern.  Especially when asylum seekers become destitute and homeless when their applications are rejected, and they are appealing the process.  Professionals that I interviewed inferred that decision-making process and quality in the UK is poor.   

On this International Day of Human Rights I want to highlight the importance of the right to liberty and also the importance of a compassionate response to asylum seekers.  Asylum seeker policy in the UK needs to be reviewed and revised to ensure that Public Health and Human Rights concerns are addressed.

The research that I conducted was in association with students studying on our degree programmes.  I would like to say a thank you to Michael Dean, Sarah Carter, Val Ngock, Jack Whalley, Oliver Turner, Dana Wade and Sarah Johnson for your work on this project and also to Penny Vincent who was a staff member at the University and involved in the inception of the project. Our findings were shared with the Home Office to help inform future changes to policy and practice.  The research undertaken forms part of the Staffordshire University Crime and Society Research Group portfolio. 

No Extra Help From Human Rights Law For Eccentrically Named Armed Bank Robber

Every year, on the 10th of December, we observe Human Rights Day. Aidan Flynn, Senior Lecturer in Law, reflects on a 2019 Court of Appeal judgment in relation to the significance of the day. 

On the 11th of September, the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal gave its judgment in Lord Shane Romell v The Secretary of State for Justice [2019] EWCA Civ 1629. Romell’s effort to deploy provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 in his application was always doomed to fail. It demonstrated, at best, a considerable degree of undue optimism.

Lord Shane Romell was previously Mr Shane Perry. He now chooses to be known as Lord Shane Romell and has a “long history of offending” with the offences including several robberies at banks and post offices. In 2015 he was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment. This followed convictions after trial, at the Central Criminal Court, of an indictment charging robbery, possession of a firearm when committing an offence, and possession of ammunition.

Romell’s initial application for a writ of habeas corpus was heard in the High Court. He was represented in court by a McKenzie friend. The High Court judge refused Romell’s application as “totally without merit.” In an interesting aside, Mr Justice Supperstone observed that “the McKenzie friend did not appear to have any knowledge of matters relating to the present application.” Lord Romell needs to be more careful in his choice of “friends”. There has been a growth in the use of McKenzie friends in recent years. Their use is becoming a somewhat controversial issue and there have been calls this month for them to be banned.

Romell subsequently brought his renewed application for a writ of habeas corpus to the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) and the matter was dealt with there by Lord Justice Green and Lord Justice Floyd. Romell served a document entitled “Skeleton Argument.” Lord Justice Green surmised that it appeared to allege that “the judgment of Mr Justice Supperstone reflects breaches of Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Human Rights Act 1998.” This Act, which came into force in 2000, incorporates most of the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. Section 6 of the Act is the best known of the sections to which Romell referred. Section 6(1) expressly provides that it is unlawful for a ‘public authority’ to act incompatibly with a Convention Right.

The “Skeleton Argument” document also referred to Magna Carta 1215 and the Fraud Act 2006. Romell appeared in the Court of Appeal in person (via videolink) and he “argued that the Central Criminal Court was not a proper court. It is a private corporation governed by contract and he, the applicant, is not a party to the contract.” As he continued, he scraped the bottom of the barrel (pardon the pun) by arguing that he was “sovereign flesh and blood” and as such he “could not be subject to the arbitrary power of a commercial body … no agent of the State or other person can deprive any person of liberty.”

Lord Justice Green had little difficulty in concluding that “this application lacks any semblance of merit” and noted that “the judges who sit at the Central Criminal Court are Crown Court and High Court judges who are authorised and empowered in law to conduct trials, such as that of the applicant.” Lord Justice Floyd agreed.

Romell has had his day in court but can hardly be surprised that his application here was unsuccessful. The case may have been moderately amusing for one Mr Nathan Roberts who acted for the Secretary of State for Justice. Mr Roberts will seldom have such an easily earned day’s pay as he had on Wednesday the 11th of September.

The judgment of the Court of Appeal is here.

Law Alumni Called to the Bar

Jake Edwards, who graduated from Staffordshire University with LLB (Hons) in 2018, has been Called to the Bar. Jake Edwards won a scholarship to complete the Bar Professional Training Course at Nottingham Trent University. Being called to the Bar means Jake now has the right to speak on behalf of someone in higher court, as he is now a qualified Barrister.

Jake Edwards – Called to the Bar

“I was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple on the 28th November 2019 as part of the Michaelmas Call Ceremony. To be eligible for call you must have completed the Bar Professional Training Course with at least a competent grade. In addition to this, you must complete 12 qualifying sessions before your call date. These sessions are hosted throughout the year and include activities such as advocacy weekends, dining sessions and lectures. Once you meet the requirements necessary to be called to the bar, you must pay a call fee to your Inn of Court.

You now need to book your gown and wig for the ceremony as it is a requirement that all callees must attend in full court dress. This includes your suit, tunic shirt, collar studs, windsor winged collar, bands, gown and wig. All can be bought in advance of your call date or hired from Ede & Ravenscroft for £36 and can be collected from the Treasury Building on the day.

Typically you can expect to bring 2 guests although there is an option to purchase extra tickets closer to the day depending on availability. On the day of call you will first head to the Middle Temple to collect your hired gown and wig and take any photographs with the professional photographers.

Once it is time for the ceremony to start, you proceed to Middle Temple Hall where the callees are filtered into a side room whilst all of the guests take their seats. You are then briefed on how the ceremony will be conducted to prevent any mishaps during the ceremony. Finally, the callees are moved into the hall to stand along the side of the room where you will be called to the bar in order of seniority with the Inn.

One by one, callees are presented to the Master Treasurer by Master Reader. As you are being presented, you approach the Master Treasurer and bow before he calls you to the degree of the utter bar. You then walk over to the table allegedly made from Sir Frances Drakes ship The Golden Hind to sign the Roll of Barristers. As you filter out of the hall, you are presented with your call certificate. Once all those in attendance have been called, this concludes the ceremony and you will have taken your place alongside the generations of barristers who preceded you, your Inn of Court is now your professional home and will remain as such throughout your career.”

Congratulations Jake!

First Year Student Gains Experience through Work and Research at HMP Stafford

Sinead Bowles is a first year student on the BA(Hons) Criminal justice with Offender Management degree. She is already gaining experience working for the deputy governor in HMP Stafford with level five and six students, and has written about her experiences.

Sinead Bowles is a first year student on the BA (Hons) Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree

The original building for HMP Stafford was built in 1793, and this was further expanded on as the population grew. The category C prison now holds around 750 offenders, who have committed sexual offences. Due to the origins of the buildings the site is astounding and fortunately me and two of my peers had the privilege of a guided tour with the deputy governor Claud Lofters, which was distinctly dissimilar to what would have been expected from such a prison.

NEW PARAGRAPH. NEW PARAGRAPH. NEW PARAGRAPH. NEW PARAGRAPH. NEW PARAGRAPH.

Claud was keen to explore why his employee’s appeared to be disconnected from the importance of their role, both in rehabilitation and support of those offenders kept in the prison.This is something which we will be conducting further research on. We intend to hold focus groups with staff, to highlight the amazing work they do every day and see what suggestions they may have which could create higher motivation and engagement. From this we aim to create a job description with a more holistic view of the role of a prison officer to help create a rehabilitative culture.

Our tour began, by being shown around one of the blocks. The number of doors, the landings, and the halls where overwhelming. One inmate kindly offered to show us his cell, which he shared with one other person, the rooms were well sized, had shower rooms and this inmate in particular had a TV and other bits such as speakers, suggesting he was a higher status based on behaviour. As we were talking to this gentleman, he started to explain how HMP Stafford has helped him and that in comparison to other institutions this was the best in terms of facilities and support.

Our tour then moved onto seeing the prisons goats and chickens. These are kept to help the inmates feel that they had the responsibility to help care for these animals, on this day families were coming to visit and as this was the school holidays it has been requested that the goats were taken up to the visitation room to meet some of the children. Me, Natalie, Molly and Claud were asked to help take the goats up. From personal experience I can confirm that getting the leads onto goats and getting them upstairs is not easy! But it was very warming to see the children excited and to see the inmates getting time with their families. It was also delightful to see the efforts which the prison officers, and staff will go to in order to help the inmates.

“Our tour then moved onto seeing the prisons goats and chickens”.

We were very lucky to be able to go into the senior area where the older prisoners can go in the day, some of the inmates were working on a project. This project involves making flowers out of different coloured papers which then go into a handmade box, and other inmates can purchase these at a low cost to gift to their visitors. Younger prisoners are able to learn different skills at HMP Stafford, the end of our tour was being shown these, which involve painting and decorating, the skills needed to be a barber, brick laying, and even a course which allows inmates to go onto work on train tracks which lasts ten weeks but outside of prison could take a few years, Claud explained they wish to offer inmates skills which could allow them to be self-employed due to their criminal background.

Our day at HMP Stafford was very informative and eye opening, our research team was very grateful for the opportunity to be shown around and are very excited for our ongoing work with the prison.

Law Alumni Wins Lechmere Essay Prize

Naz Khan, a recent Graduate in LLB Law, has won the coveted Lechmere Essay Prize from Middle Temple.

“I am delighted to share that I have been awarded the prestigious Lechmere Essay Prize from Middle Temple.”

One prize of £500 is awarded every year for an essay from a member of the Middle Temple on a prescribed topic of no more than 3,000 words.

The winning essay ‘Do events since 23 June 2016 strengthen or weaken the case for the United Kingdom adopting a written, codified Constitution?’ was written during Naz’s time at Staffordshire University.

“Studying constitutional and EU law at Staffordshire University helped to improve my understanding of constitutional issues within the UK and equipped me with the knowledge to answer the essay question.

“Many students often find concepts within these modules difficult to grasp and quickly lose interest. I would say to the current flock of law students at Staffordshire University to remain focused and discuss these concepts in workshops with fellow students and professors as much as possible to improve your understanding.

“I was fortunate to have incredible professors’ and mentors at Staffordshire University, without their support and guidance I would not have had the confidence to enter the competition yet alone writing an essay worthy of winning the award.”

You can read Naz’s winning essay here.

Congratulations Naz Khan and all the best on your LL.M. at Durham University.

Welcome Week: an Educational Trip to HMP Drake Hall

A month into the first semester, students are settling in well to their courses. Welcome Week was a success in making students feel comfortable and getting them excited for their new course. We had trips, personal tutor meetings and team exercises to help them adjust. One of our students, Annie Middleton – a first year Criminal Justice with Offender Management student – has shared her experience of a valuable trip to HMP Drake Hall during Welcome Week.

During the university’s Welcome Week, Level 4 Offender Management students had the opportunity to visit HMP Drake Hall – a closed Women’s resettlement prison with an operational capacity of approximately 340 adults and young offenders. HMP Drake Hall also holds 25 prisoners in an open unit situated outside of the prison gate, which allows the women to access the local community and facilities such as the gym, work opportunities, and the local town centres, prior to their release.

Upon our arrival we were welcomed into the prison’s visitor centre. Unlike other prisons, and those depicted in movies and on TV, this visitor centre was a vast contrast from the dark and dingy visiting rooms that most of us were expecting. The pavement outside was covered in bright paintings where children could play and learn to count, and the centre itself was no different; bright blue walls and picture, comfortable chairs and a spacious environment where children and families would be made to feel safe and welcomed. It felt more like a community centre than a prison.

Our class were split into three separate groups, and as the first group were taken on a tour of the prison by Tim, who had kindly organised and made this visit possible, my group sat down with an offender, who also volunteers within the prison as a ‘Peer Advisor’. While talking with this offender, and a second one later in the day, we were given the opportunity to ask whatever questions we had about their experiences during their sentences.

The first offender we spoke to spoke about her experience living her life without her children. We learnt that the prison offers special ‘children’s days’ during school holidays, where the prison officers dress in normal clothes, and the environment is made to feel more normal for the children and their families. These days can be extremely beneficial to the women and the children, and as we learnt, can help keep the offender’s spirits up during their sentences, and help maintain a sense of normality into the lives of the children. The second offender we spoke to had very contrasting views from the first; she felt that she had been failed by the criminal justice system and was angry and dissatisfied with the support she had been receiving – or lack thereof. I asked her if she had received any mental health support to help deal with the emotional impact of her prosecution and sentence, and she spoke of how many women in the prison system never receive mental health intervention because the waiting time is usually longer than their sentence.

After, we were shown around the prison grounds, being shown the voluntary and paid outwork programmes; including the opportunity to work in an on-site call centre, the Halfords Academy and the Greggs Academy; all of which have the possibility of employment on release. The prison also offers schemes such as education, workshops, farming and gardening, a gym and a beauty salon where the women can spend money earnt from work. Walking around the prison was unlike anything we could have expected; it was, as the prisoners described “a holiday-camp gone wrong”; there were patches of bright sunflowers scattered around the grounds, and we caught a glimpse of a wandering duck; images you would never associate with a prison. The accommodation the women were in could not be further from typical cells; women are housed with approximately 20 other women, with laundry facilities, kitchens, and single bedrooms that can be easily compared to University accommodation.

Overall, this visit was an extremely eye-opening insight into the prison systems from the views of the prisoners themselves. The visit was also shocking to most as Drake Hall does not at all come close to the typical prison settings that most picture. However, as Tim said to us during our visit; does locking offenders away in dingy cells with no educational opportunities work in rehabilitation?

On behalf of myself and the rest of the Level 4 Class, I would like to thank Louis, Keith, Tim and the rest of the HMP Drake Hall staff for making this opportunity safe and educational and first and foremost possible.

Work Experience Alongside Offender Management Degree

Danielle Hackett is going into her second year in the BA Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree. She has been volunteering at Change, Grow, Live (CGL) and has written a post for us detailing how valuable she found the practical work experience opportunities.

Jade Taylor, a former student, is regional manager for CGL and several of our BA Criminal Justice with Offender Management currently volunteer on this programme.

I am starting my second year of Criminal Justice with Offender Management in September. In my first year of the course, I decided to become a volunteer for CGL (previously SOVA). CGL is a rehabilitation charity which works with offenders and ex-offenders in and out of prison, to help them to lead positive lives. In my role I work with the offenders whilst they are in prison serving their sentence and also when they get released from prison by mentoring them. I also pick up offenders on their release dates and support them throughout their first days out, as the first day out is always the most important. I also volunteer at probation, where the ex offenders can drop in and speak to us about an problems or queries they may have and I have recently had some amazing opportunities given to myself.

The first opportunity I had was a tour around YOI (Young Offenders Institute) Brinsford in Wolverhampton. That was the first ever YOI I had visited and I was stunned to learn that there was over 100 adult males also in there, even though there were 2 adult male prisons also on the site: Featherstone and Oakwood. The tour was very interesting and insightful, I walked through the ‘first night’ cells, where one half of the offenders were quiet and the other half were loud, banging on the doors and shouting abuse. I also got shown around segregation, where there were around 10 inmates locked up for things like fighting and at least half were on an ACCT. They had an education building, where the offenders were taught how to cook and they had gardens where the inmates were building a bigger pond. There is no therapy at the prison, therefore, I believe some inmates themselves used working on the garden as some kind of therapy. On res 5, the prisoners were trusted and so they had keys for their own rooms. The prison as a whole was more old fashioned than other prisons such as Dovegate.

The second opportunity due to my volunteering role which I have landed is being offered to be key trained at one of the prisons. Every second week, I will be based in one of the prisons, where I will be meeting with the male offenders, informing them about CGL, what we do, how we can help and generally answering any questions they have. Due to that role, the prison suggested that being key trained would benefit me, this involves 5 days of training and self defence.

Without volunteering I would not have had these opportunities, it is amazing being able to put everything we learn on our course at uni, into practice.

A Year On – The Bar Professional Training Course

Last year we published an article about celebrating the scholarship one of our students, Jake Edwards, won in order to complete the Bar Professional Training Course at Nottingham Trent University. We caught up with him to see how the course was and to tell us a little bit more about what it entails. 

I started the Bar Professional Training Course in September 2018 at Nottingham Trent University after receiving one of the Middle Temple Inn of Court Scholarships and the Nottingham Law School Dean’s BPTC Scholarship for Academic Excellence.

Before I enrolled on the BPTC I had to complete the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT). This test will not assess your legal knowledge, instead, it will test your ability to use reason and logic. The questions will test your ability to evaluate arguments, recognise assumptions and draw inferences.

On the BPTC I had to complete twelve exams, each assessing a different discipline necessary for legal practice as a barrister. These areas are criminal litigation (evidence and sentencing), civil litigation and remedies, professional ethics, drafting, opinion writing, resolution of disputes out of court (RDOC), conferencing, criminal advocacy (comprising of two assessments examination in chief and cross examination) and civil advocacy. You must then choose two optional modules, I took advanced criminal litigation and family law practice.

The course is very different from any undergraduate law course, the emphasis shifts away from academic research and legal theory. Instead, the focus is on practical skills. The assumption is that you now know the law, or at the very least you will inform yourself of what the law is. The sorts of issues you will face on a day to day basis will largely relate to evidence, procedure and advice.

During the BPTC, I attended twelve qualifying sessions at the Middle Temple, as this is required before you are eligible to be called to the bar. There are a wide range of sessions available including but not expressly limited to advocacy weekends at the Cumberland Lodge, mooting competitions, dining nights, music nights and lectures.

Whilst studying on the BPTC I worked as a County Court Advocate. In this role I have represented clients in court before District Judges across the Midlands on a range of issues including personal injury claims, RTA claims, infant approval hearings, debt recovery hearings, fitness to work cases, mortgage possession hearings and deposit protection hearings. In this capacity you are subject to the same code of ethics that governs barristers and you will frequently find yourself up against opponents who are themselves practicing barristers usually up to five years call.

The BPTC assesses your level of competency with the grading ranging from not competent to outstanding. In July, I received my BPTC results in which I was graded an outstanding overall. I am now waiting to be called to the bar at the Middle Temple in November (Michaelmas call). To be eligible for call you must have obtained at least a competent overall on the BPTC along with twelve qualifying sessions.

Congratulations for all of your hard work Jake!

Graduate Wins Scholarship for Bar Professional Training Course

Lauren Bicknell, a Graduate in LLB Law with a Foundation Year, has won a scholarship from Middle Temple to study the BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course).

“I am beyond delighted to share that I have been awarded the Jules Thorn Scholarship from Middle Temple to study the BPTC (Bar Professional Training Course) in Nottingham this September.

My path to the Bar has been somewhat unconventional. I finished my A-levels with less than desirable grades and only got in to University through Clearing. However, I have proved to myself that with resilience and determination, anything is achievable. I was exceptionally fortunate to have great mentors at Staffordshire University. Their unwavering support and guidance played an indispensable role in my success.

I am incredibly excited to begin this next chapter of my journey in becoming a barrister.”

Congratulations Lauren and all the best for the Bar Professional Training Course