The Home Office has agreed to pay £50,000 compensation after a three-year-old girl was left in care while her father was unlawfully placed in immigration detention.
At the high court on Wednesday, the Home Office admitted that the detention of the father was unlawful as it breached both the department’s own policies and the father and daughter’s right to family life, under European law.
The court heard that the father, an Indian related to an EU national, was placed in immigration detention after serving a 20-month prison sentence for unlawful wounding.
The local authority where he had been living did not believe the child’s mother was capable of looking her and said it was in the child’s best interests to be raised by her father.
The family court ordered that it was in the best interests of the girl, known at court as AJU, that she be reunited with her father, AJS. The court also warned that if this did not happen, the girl would have to be placed for adoption.
Despite this, the Home Office moved AJS to an immigration centre in Dorset, hundreds of miles from the place where his daughter was in care. He was released after three months in immigration detention, just days before his daughter was due to be placed for adoption.
Despite highly critical judgments, the Home Office continues to separate children from their parents.Janet Farrell, Bhatt Murphy law firm
His solicitor, Janet Farrell of the London law firm Bhatt Murphy, said: “The litany of unlawful conduct in the case and how close this child came to the catastrophic outcome of adoption is truly shocking.
“Despite highly critical judgments in the past, and compelling evidence of the harm caused to children by the indefinite detention of their parents, the Home Office continues to separate children from their parents in an arbitrary and cruel manner.
“The duty to treat the best interests of children and a primary consideration is too often subjugated to the perceived need to be tough on immigration, with devastating effects on the welfare of children and parents alike.”
The court ordered that the Home Office pay AJS £40,000 in compensation and AJU £10,000. The judge said the reunion of the father and daughter was “heart warming” after what they had been through.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We try to keep families together wherever possible and when considering returns put the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children at the centre of any decision. In this case we accept that we did not comply with our own published policies.”
Scores of children – and possibly hundreds – are separated from a parent or carer in the UK every year, according to Bail for Immigration Detainees (Bid), a charity that challenges immigration detention.
Although current Home Office guidelines state that children should not be separated from a parent if that results in the child being taken into care, the charity says this has happened to three families in the last 16 months.
In 2013, Bid studied a sample of 111 parents who had been separated from 200 children over a three-year period. The average period of detention had been 270 days.
Eighty five of the 200 children had been placed in foster or local authority care during their parent’s detention. In 92 cases, the parent was eventually released. In 15 cases, however, the parent was deported or removed from the UK without their child.