Court of Appeal halts deportation of over 50 people to Jamaica

10 February 2020, 18:15 | Updated: 11 February 2020, 00:08

A flight to Jamaica was planned to leave the UK at 6:30am on Tuesday
A flight to Jamaica was planned to leave the UK at 6:30am on Tuesday. Picture: PA /Getty

The Court of Appeal has halted a planned deportation flight on Tuesday of over 50 people to Jamaica.

The court decided that those set to be on the flight had insufficient access to legal advice because they did not have working mobile sim cards while staying in immigration detention.

Lady Justice Simler granted the order without a court hearing following an urgent application by the charity Detention Action.

They argued that some of the detainees still do not have a functioning mobile phone, following issues with an O2 phone mast in the area of the Colnbrooke and Harmondsworth detention centres, and therefore did not have adequate access to legal advice.

But the order does not apply to Brook House detention centre, which is close to Gatwick, although campaigners say detainees have experienced similar problems with communication networks.

Bella Sankey, director of Detention Action, said: "We are delighted with this landmark decision which is a victory for access to justice, fairness and the rule of law.

"On the basis of this order from our Court of Appeal we do not believe that anyone currently detained at the Heathrow detention centres can be removed on tomorrow's flight.

"We understand that this will apply to at least 56 people."

Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis who is representing some of those scheduled to be deported, said: "For weeks now detainees' complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

"Their removal looms large, hours away and yet again it takes judicial intervention to make the Home Office take basic, humane and fair steps to allow people to enjoy their constitutional right to access justice."

More than 40 British children could be made fatherless if the flight eventually goes ahead.

The plane was expected to leave the UK for the Caribbean nation at around 6:30am on Tuesday, carrying people who were brought to the country when they were younger and have since committed a criminal offence.

Speaking in the Commons on Monday, David Lammy MP called for the deportation flight to be halted over concern that some of the 50 people set to be on board arrived in the UK as children.

He urged the government to reassure Parliament that there will be no British nationals on the flight.

However, critics of the plan have said those being deported have lived in the UK "for most of their lives," have had limited access to legal services, and no longer have any connections to Jamaica.

Mr Lammy said: "People watching see the way that this government holds with such disrespect the contribution of West Indian, Caribbean and black people in this country.

"When, when will black lives matter again?"

Junior minister Kevin Foster MP, representing the government, responded: "The way the Home Office applies these rules, we are very clear it's based on the criminality not the nationality of the offender.

"There are no British nationals on that flight. And let's be clear, the foreign nationals on that flight have been sentenced to a total of 300 years in prison.

"The offences are, as we said, relate to everything from sex offending, serious drug trafficking offences, violent offences, firearms offences - you know, that is what is happening in this instance."

Earlier today, more than 170 MPs urged Boris Johnson to ground the plane, following the leak of a draft report - commissioned in the light of the Windrush scandal - that says No 10 should halt the deportation of foreign-born offenders who came to the UK as children.

Some of those set to be on board the plane were convicted of drug offences when they were young, but the group of cross-party MPs say the policy should be reconsidered in all but the "most severe cases."

More than 100 demonstrators are protesting in the rain outside Downing Street ahead of the planned flight.

They chanted "black communities have the right, here to stay, here to fight" and "no charter flight, respect human rights."

Protestors at Jamaican embassy against deportation flights
Protestors at Jamaican embassy against deportation flights. Picture: Getty

A group of lawyers failed in their judicial review that attempted to halt the deportation of the group

Duncan Lewis Solicitors - who represent 15 people set to be on board the flight - filed papers at the High Court calling for an urgent oral hearing to discuss the issue.

Toufique Hossain, director of public law at Duncan Lewis, said many of the clients had come to the UK as young children aged between four and 13, and had lived in the country "for most of their lives."

At the heart of the legal challenge was concern that those on board the flight have had limited access to legal advice, as well as questioning their criminality.

However, the government has repeatedly insisted the flight will go ahead at around 6:30am Tuesday morning. It is not currently known which airport or airline will be chartering the flight.

Rishi Sunak, chief secretary to the Treasury, called the deportations "reasonable" as those set to be on the plane had committed "very serious offences."

One protester with a sign outside the Jamaican embassy
One protester with a sign outside the Jamaican embassy. Picture: Getty

He said he believed the flight is "right" and the British public would expect foreign national offenders to be deported.

"Many of these people have committed crimes such as manslaughter, rape, other very serious offences," he told Sky News.

One of those facing deportation to Jamaica is 23-year-old Tajay Thompson, who served half of a 15-month sentence in 2015 after being convicted of possessing class A drugs with intent to supply at 17.

The south-Londoner has no links to the Caribbean nation and has only visited twice since arriving in the UK aged five.

"I feel like I was born here. Jamaica is not my country," Mr Thompson said as he insisted he was groomed into a gang as a teenager.

"It's not like I'm a rapist or a murderer, I've made a mistake when I was 17 and it's now going to affect my whole life."

The leaked Windrush Lessons Learned review report recommended that deporting people who had been in the UK since childhood should be stopped and reconsidered.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The planned charter flight to Jamaica is specifically for deporting foreign national offenders. Those detained for removal include people convicted of manslaughter, rape, violent crime and dealing Class-A drugs.

"We are urgently asking the judge to reconsider their ruling and it would be inappropriate to comment further whilst legal proceedings are ongoing."