Desperately seeking assylum

Few areas of the law throw up more problems than the one chosen by west London sole practitioner Jerry Clore.

Yet few, if any, could provide him with more satisfaction. In many ways, he admits his chosen field has turned into something of a labour of love. And his labours are earning Clore – practising as Clore & Co – a formidable reputation, particularly in the light of his latest High Court victory in R v The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham ex parte m & ors.

Clore played a major role in a recent headline-grabbing action, in which the High Court ruled that local authorities are under a duty to provide asylum seekers facing the prospect of destitution with the "basics for survival" while their claims for refugee status are considered by the Government.

In a ruling with wide-ranging implications, Mr Justice Collins highlighted the plight of such asylum seekers.

He said: "I find it impossible to believe that Parliament intended that an asylum seeker, who was lawfully here and who could not be lawfully removed from the country, should be left destitute, starving and at risk of grave illness and even death because he could find no one to provide him with the bare necessities of life."

Although viewed by some as emotive, the words rang true for Clore, who 18 months ago set up his practice specialising in this and related fields of law.

Invariably, he said, the first thing to he does when clients arrive in his office is not reach for the law books but provide them with some basic food and drink. "It is no exaggeration to say that we do have people arriving in our offices who are literally starving," he said.

Clore, who has long-standing connections with the Refugee Council, is the first to admit he has a personal interest in his charges.

He explained: "We do feel very strongly and have a lot of empathy for these people and their cases. We help them as much as possible but at times the first priority can involve sending someone out to get something for them to eat before we start looking at the legal situation."

Another problem with cases of this nature is the language barrier. A competent panel of interpreters available at short notice has proved vital. And the persuasive advocacy of counsel, Stephen Knafler, a community care and civil liberties expert, is invaluable. He has been at the sharp end of around 30 injunction applications which took place in the run-up to the recent High Court ruling.

The injunctions were against local authorities, ordering them to provide the "basics for survival" for a number of applicants for asylum, pending the outcome of the recent action.

The case, argued in the High Court by David Pannick QC with Stephen Knafler, was one Clore always believed was a strong one.

Argument centred not so much on the provisions of recent acts relating to immigrants as on the provisions of the National Assistance Act 1948.

Basically, those provisions require local authorities to provide residential accommodation for people who cannot provide for themselves.

"We were fairly confident early on that we had a strong argument for these provisions to be applied to asylum seekers," said Clore.

"At the end of the day the judge decided fairly conclusively we were right. It was an important decision. He said that the courts are not prepared to see people who come from abroad – genuine asylum seekers – starving to death on the streets of Britain."

He added: "It is time for the Government to say 'enough is enough'."