Potential trafficking victims unlawfully detained in fast-track asylum system
The Government has admitted that possible victims of human trafficking were unlawfully detained in the fast-track system for asylum applications.
The Home Secretary has accepted in three test cases there were failures to identify evidence that applicants might be victims of trafficking, and that the cases required further investigation outside the Detained Fast Track (DFT) system.
High Court judge Mr Justice Blake today approved a written consent order in which Theresa May conceded that all three had been unsuitable for quick determination and agreed to pay "substantive" damages to the applicants.
The way is now open for other applicants who were also wrongly fast tracked to seek redress.
Earlier this month the DFT was suspended and the Government formally recognised that individuals who said they were victims of torture and ill treatment had been unlawfully fast tracked and were entitled to compensation.
The latest concessions reveal that - until the July 2 suspension - the system, which was designed to dispose quickly of asylum claims that clearly lacked merit, also operated in a fatally flawed way in trafficking cases.
The UK has a duty under Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits slavery and forced labour, to protect trafficking victims.
The Home Secretary accepted the DFT failed to comply with the 2010 Equality Act because vulnerable people faced an unacceptable risk of being treated unfairly.
The three asylum seekers who won the concessions say they are the victims of sexual exploitation but were wrongly detained on the fast track at Yarl's Wood or Colnbrook, two immigration removal centres, at dates in 2014-2015.
According to their legal teams, one was subject to a forced marriage, raped and beaten repeatedly by her "fiance" with the threat of being transported to Italy to be forced into prostitution.
Another suffered persistent domestic abuse at the hands of her husband and was later passed by her husband onto his acquaintances and friends and forced into prostitution. A third was a child groomed for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
Stephanie Harrison QC, who was at the centre of the legal challenge that won the concessions, said: "It is not without some irony that only a few months ago the Modern Slavery Act came into force, heralded by the Home Secretary as offering protection to victims of trafficking from being criminalised.
"The Home Office now needs to adhere to the law and its own commitments on trafficking and urgently review the asylum system, so victims of trafficking are no-longer detained and denied vital protections.
"The Home Office, with the Metropolitan Police, also need to urgently reflect upon the many lost opportunities to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of human trafficking who profit from the exploitation of these vulnerable people, many of them, women and girls forced into prostitution."