Hundreds of trafficking victims trying to start new lives in Britain have suffered as a result of a “secret internal policy” operated by two home secretaries, a campaign group has alleged during a High Court hearing.
Asylum Aid said that from early 2022 to April 2023 the Home Office operated a “secret policy” to frustrate the right to remain of at least 1,600 confirmed victims of trafficking and modern slavery.
Government lawyers dispute the claims.
The allegations were made during a High Court damages fight involving an asylum-seeker and the Home Office, relating to periods when Priti Patel and Suella Braverman were in office.
Lawyers representing the asylum-seeker, who is being supported by Asylum Aid, have told a judge that a “serious misuse of power” has been exposed.
The man, an Albanian in his 20s who has not been named during the litigation, says, as a result of the “secret, unlawful policy”, he was denied the right to leave to remain in Britain for more than a year.
He claims that denial of the right to leave to remain breached his human rights – and he wants damages.
Ministers are fighting the claim and a barrister leading the Home Office legal team told Mr Justice Lane on Thursday that the issue was “delay” not “secret” policies.
Lawyers representing the man outlined allegations in a written argument.
Chris Buttler KC and Zoe McCallum told the judge: “This claim exposes a serious misuse of power.”
They said there was a policy granting modern slavery victims leave to remain in Britain – in accordance with a European convention against trafficking.
The two lawyers said, in October 2021, a High Court judge’s decision required the Home Office to grant recognised modern slavery victims leave to remain where they had a pending asylum claim.
They said that decision created a right to leave to remain to a “class of victim of modern slavery” not hitherto thought by the Home Office to have such a right.
But they alleged that there had been a “secret internal policy” telling officials not to grant the right to leave to remain created by that decision.
Outside court, a spokeswoman for Asylum Aid said that evidence had been garnered from documents disclosed during the litigation.
Cathryn McGahey KC, who is leading the Home Office legal team, said: “This case is about delay.
“It is not a case about secret or unpublished policies.”
Ms McGahey added, in a written case outline, that the man had not suffered “any significant detriment as a consequence of the pause in decision-making”.
She said he had continued to receive “state support in the form of housing, education, medical care and state benefits” – and told the judge that his claim should be dismissed.