Yarls Wood families' detention ruled unlawful

11 January 2011

Today at the High Court, two families held at Yarls Wood Immigration Detention Centre have succeeded in their claims that they were unlawfully detained. Suppiah and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department concerned two mothers and their young children who were locked up last year after dawn raids on their homes.

The judge also noted that ‘no one can seriously dispute that detention is capable of causing significant and in some instances long lasting harm to children’.

Emma Norton, Liberty’s legal officer who intervened in the case, said:

“The UK Border Agency failed these families – prison is no place for a child. The Court has acknowledged how detention damages children. Surely the Government can’t run away from its promise to end this shameful practice.” 

The Court found that there was little evidence that UKBA had considered its duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children when deciding whether to detain the families. The Family Welfare Form, the basis on which key operational decisions are made, was incorrectly and poorly completed in both cases.  For one family, there was ‘not a shred of evidence’ that UKBA had considered the welfare of their two-year-old child when deciding to detain them.

The children still suffer the effects of their detention, with one child (aged 11 at the time) now diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Contact: Liberty’s press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831 128

Notes to Editors

  1. Liberty has obtained information under the Freedom of Information Act which shows that in 2009 alone, 1065 children were held in immigration detention. The longest period a child was held in 2009 was 158 days and the average period of detention was two weeks.
  2. Prior to 2001, children were detained in immigration detention only very rarely. In 2001 the policy was changed and UKBA was authorised by the then Government to detain children according to the same criteria as adults. The numbers of children in detention then started increasing significantly.  This change was brought in without consultation and without evidence justifying the change. The Government continued to insist that it would only detain children in exceptional circumstances and only to effect removal. However, it quickly transpired that this was not (and is not) how the policy is being implemented by UKBA – children are routinely detained as a first and not a last resort, without any alternatives being explored and most critically, without the child’s welfare being taken into account.
  3. The families in this case were detained in January/February 2010. One mother and her daughter (aged two at the time of detention) were held for over two weeks; the other mother and her two sons (aged 11 and two at the time) were held for two weeks. Liberty presented evidence in Court to show that even short periods in immigration detention cause serious harm to children, including the specific children in this case. Further information is available on request to the Liberty press office.