High Court grants permission to proceed to trial in challenge to the use of RAF Wethersfield as asylum accommodation

27 February 2024: Four asylum seekers who issued claims for judicial review against the Home Secretary after being accommodated at the controversial military site, RAF Wethersfield, have today been selected as lead claimants and granted permission to proceed with their claims to trial in July 2024.

The Claimants challenge the use of RAF Wethersfield to house asylum seekers on six grounds, including that the Home Secretary has failed to provide dignified standard of living and that the conditions and regime at Wethersfield is discriminatory and creates a real risk of a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is also argued that the Home Office has failed to protect asylum seekers from racial violence and harassment.

On 12 July 2023, the Home Secretary began accommodating asylum seekers at the repurposed Wethersfield site. The Home Secretary has announced plans to transfer up to 1,700 asylum seekers to RAF Wethersfield and extend its use for three years.

The Claimants have presented evidence that the Home Office have accommodated individuals at the site who are extremely vulnerable, including victims of torture and modern slavery, as well as individuals with significant mental or physical health impairments. This includes asylum seekers with severe suicidal ideation, exacerbated by the conditions at the site. They have provided evidence to suggest that there is a hostile regime at Wethersfield, including significant restrictions on their movements, communication, and inadequate healthcare provision to meet the needs of this vulnerable group.

The Claimants have argued that the Home Secretary has failed to operate an adequate screening and allocation system to properly identify individuals who are unsuitable to be accommodated at a military site and that there is no effective procedure in place for ongoing monitoring once asylum seekers are transferred to Wethersfield.

The claims have come after the Home Office was criticised by the High Court in 2021 for unlawfully detaining asylum seekers at Napier Barracks and not having an adequate system in place to ensure vulnerable asylum seekers are not transferred to military sites. The Claimants argue that despite the Court’s decision in NB, the Home Secretary continues to make the same mistakes by failing to operate an adequate system to ensure that individuals who are not suitable to be accommodated at military sites are appropriately identified and not transferred there.

Emily Soothill, solicitor at Deighton Pierce Glynn said:

“Just as the Home Office did with the unlawful regime at Napier Barracks, the Home Secretary has today conceded that it is arguable that they are operating an unlawful regime at RAF Wethersfield. Our clients were subjected to demeaning conditions at Wethersfield, in some cases for over seven months. Without the support of charities such as Care4Calais, Human 4 Rights Network and Doctors of the World, they would likely still be at the site without the support they need and where the risks are unimaginable. The Home Secretary has previously said that RAF Wethersfield is not an appropriate place in which to accommodate asylum seekers. It is now time for him to follow this up with action by ending the use of Wethersfield as asylum accommodation”.

Clare Jennings, Co-Director at Gold Jennings Solicitors said:

“We are delighted that the High Court has granted permission for a group of lead Claimants, including our client, TG, to challenge the Home Secretary’s use of Wethersfield camp in Essex. TG, like many of the men at Wethersfield is a victim of trafficking who sought the safety and protection of the UK. Instead of offering him support, the Home Office housed him in a remote and former army base, alienated from the nearest communities, with restrictions on his movement. The High Court today, facing the strength of evidence presented, has rightly chosen to scrutinise the Home Secretary’s process for accommodating vulnerable asylum seekers at Wethersfield recognising that “these are important matters” that “need to be resolved as soon as possible”.

The Claimants are all anonymised pursuant to Court Order and cannot be identified for legal reasons. The case references are: MN v SSHD (AC-2024-LON-000210); HAA v SSHD (AC-2024-LON-000224); TG v SSHD (AC-2023-LON-003447); and MJ v SSHD (AC-2024-LON-000189). Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors acts for two of the Claimants, MN and HAA, Gold Jennings Solicitors act for the Claimant TG and Duncan Lewis act for MJ. The claims will be listed for a four-day trial between 23 and 26 July 2024.

The Court also granted permission to four other Claimants represented by Deighton Pierce Glynn, and one other Claimant represented by Gold Jennings. Those claims are stayed behind the lead claims.

Emily Soothill, Unkha Banda, Ahmed Ali, Megan Smith, Evie Oldfield, Tabatha Pinto, Yashna Patel and Sophie Broke from Deighton Pierce Glynn are instructed by MN and HAA. Counsel instructed in those claims are Shu Shin Luh of Doughty Street Chambers and Benjamin Amunwa of the 36 Group.

Clare Jennings, Olivia Halse, Elinor Kirchwey, Alex Hogg and Lea Lehouck of Gold Jennings Solicitors are instructed by TG. Counsel instructed in this claim is Shu Shin Luh and Sarah Dobbie of Doughty Street Chambers.