Torture victims in high court challenge to Home Office over detentions

Diane Taylor
The seven cases include an Afghan man who was kidnapped and recruited by the Taliban at the age of five. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

Seven victims of torture who have been locked up in immigration detention are at the high court, challenging as unlawful a government policy that allows some torture survivors to be imprisoned.

The seven, who include victims of trafficking, a man kidnapped by the Taliban, and two men tortured because of their sexuality, say the government should no longer be able to routinely incarcerate people who have experienced persecution.

The charity Medical Justice, which works to improve the health of immigration detainees, is also part of the judicial review challenge.

All seven bringing the challenge on Tuesday were accepted by doctors to be victims of torture but because they did not meet the Home Office’s new definition of torture, officials initially refused to release them from detention.

The Home Office accepts that asylum seekers who have survived torture should be detained only in exceptional circumstances. Its definition had previously included any act of torture by any individual or group.

However, last September the government redefined the term to refer to torture carried out by official state agents only. As a result those tortured by traffickers, terrorists or other non-government forces could be held in detention even if expert medical evidence found the scars on their bodies to be consistent with their accounts of torture.

A Medical Justice spokesperson said: “Medical Justice is challenging the Home Office’s new ‘adults at risk’ detention policy, which fundamentally weakens protections for vulnerable victims of torture. We hope the Home Office changes to the policy on detaining torture survivors will be reversed and a process instituted that works effectively to identify and protect vulnerable people.”

The Home Office has already conceded that there are some difficulties with the adults at risk policy and announced it would review 340 cases of detainees who had been persecuted but did not meet the new torture definition. Home Office officials declined to comment on the outcome of that review or on Tuesday’s case.

The seven cases include:

• A 20-year-old Vietnamese victim of trafficking who worked from the age of six to pay off her dead parents’ debts from a loan shark. She was repeatedly beaten with sticks, broken bottles and burned with cigarettes before being trafficked to the UK.

• A 21-year-old Afghan man who was kidnapped and recruited by the Taliban at the age of five, beaten with rifle butts, stabbed and thrown off a mountain.

• A 40-year-old Nigerian man who was jailed, beaten, flogged and whipped because he is gay.

Medical Justice wants to see the Home Office reinstate the wider definition of torture. It argues that the government has breached the equality act by failing to consider the needs of protected groups including those persecuted for their sexuality, women who have experienced gender-based violence and victims of trafficking.

At a hearing last November, Mr Justice Ouseley, who is hearing the judicial review challenge, ruled that the term “torture” should revert to its previous broader definition until the case was finally decided. The case is expected to last for four days.

The seven torture victims are represented by solicitors at Bhatt Murphy and Duncan Lewis.

Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis, said: “We want the current policy to be quashed. It really shouldn’t matter, when assessing whether a person should be detained, if the perpetrators are state officials or not.”

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