UK High Court dismisses challenge to conditions in immigration removal centre

The High Court in the United Kingdom has dismissed a challenge by three Afghani individuals to the night-time lockdown regime for detainees in Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC) during 2017 and 2018.

The claimants, who have all now obtained refugee or humanitarian protection status, were detained at Brook House in 2017 or 2018, when the centre was run by G4S. The night-time regime saw detainees at the centre locked in their rooms from 9pm to 8am every night, in conditions they claimed were overcrowded, unsanitary, poorly ventilated, and which breached their rights to observe their religion. It was contended that the lockdown amounted to unlawful religious discrimination as it forced Muslims to perform some of their daily prayers in small rooms in close proximity of the toilet.

Brook House is a Category B prison and accommodates both “difficult detainees” and “ordinary detainees”; the latter being the category that the claimants fell under. There was no difference in treatment at Brook House, which meant that it was more restrictive than other removal centres.

In 2018, the High Court in R (Hussain and Rahman) concluded that the night conditions, shared rooms and open lavatory facilities at Brook House was unlawful due indirect discrimination, however the Court did not make a final ruling as the Home Secretary had not yet complied with her Public Sector Equality Duty and considered the justification. This was conducted in December 2018 and held that although the regime could disproportionately impact Muslim detainees, it was justified on the basis of the operational need to maintain a safe and quiet centre throughout the night.

In the current case, the Court ruled that "by deciding that there should be a night state, the [Home Office] was striking a lawful balance between the statutory purposes of security, safety and good order and the statutory purposes of providing a relaxed and humane environment". The regime was found not to be in breach of rights under Articles 5, 8, 9 and/or 14 European Convention on Human Rights.

Despite expert evidence that stated it was highly discouraged in Islam to pray near a toilet and that it is important not to be distracted by strong and unpleasant odours and loud noises, the Court did not take the evidence “to mean that the proximity of a toilet completely invalidated and rendered nugatory the prayers of a believer. If it is unavoidable, it is permissible to pray near to a toilet, and this was unavoidable for those who were detained at Brook House. It was not a matter for their personal choice, for which they could be criticised.”

The Court found no violations of the Convention and outlined that human rights were not breached in circumstances where an individual can still practice their religion but in sub-optimal conditions.

Click here for the decision in Soltany and Others v SSHD.



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