Appeal judges back Blunkett on asylum challenge

The Court of Appeal ruled last week that an asylum seeker who slept rough at Heathrow Airport could be deprived benefits as he was not suffering “inhuman or degrading” treatment, in a ruling which sees the Home Office winning back some of the ground lost earlier in the year.

The case, T v Secretary of State for the Home Department, concerned a challenge against the application of the Government’s controversial new asylum legislation, Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, which denies housing and support to some asylum seekers, leaving them destitute.

The Court of Appeal heard how ‘T’ arrived in the UK in March and had been sleeping rough at Heathrow Airport since April after his application for benefits was denied under the legislation. At his hearing in July, his lawyers argued his subsequent destitution amounted to inhumane and degrading treatment under the Human Rights Act.

The case follows an explosive clash between the judiciary and ministers over Section 55 in March this year, in the case of Q and Ors v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, when Mr Justice Collins ruled that such legislation fell foul of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It was a ruling that left the Home Secretary frustrated and, according to asylum campaigners, left his asylum policy in tatters.

“I don’t want any mixed messages going out, so I’m making it absolutely clear that we don’t accept what Mr Justice Collins has said,” David Blunkett fumed on The World at One on BBC Radio 4 at the time. “We’ll seek to overturn it. We’ll continue operating a policy that we think is perfectly reasonable and fair.”

In that case, the Appeal Court refused to overturn the High Court ruling.

In the T case, the three judges agreed that although T was “living” at Heathrow, it was “impossible to find that T’s condition… had reached or were verging on the inhuman or the degrading”.

Anna Reisenberger, development director of the Refugee Council, described the result as “disappointing” for “the thousands of asylum seekers affected by the Government’s draconian asylum legislation, which will continue to leave asylum seekers homeless, hungry and begging for handouts”.
“Though the courts have already ruled that denying asylum seekers support can lead to a breach of their human rights, this remains a grey area in the law that will only be ultimately resolved when the Government repeals this harsh and inhuman measure,” she continued. “Until that time, the Government will continue to face many more cases in the courts, taking up unnecessary time and resources.”

T v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Court of Appeal, 23 September 2003