Baker & McKenzie has represented the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in an appeal in the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
The UNHCR was representing Dr Shayan Saadi, an Iraqi doctor of Kurdish origin, who sought asylum in the UK in 2000. After he was temporarily admitted to the UK he was detained for 10 days in the Oakington Reception Centre while interviews were carried out.
Saadi and others later challenged the legality of their detention, claiming it was for administrative purposes only and therefore was a breach of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which relates to the right to liberty.
The first instance judge found the detention was illegal, but the decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal. Saadi then appealed to the ECHR, which found that the UK had breached its obligation to inform him of the reasons for his detention, but that the detention itself was legal because the UK had a right to detain someone to prevent unauthorised entry.
He then appealed this decision in the ECHR’s Grand Chamber in May on the basis that the UK could not detain him to prevent an unauthorised entry because he had already entered the country with permission. Judgment was reserved and is still pending.
Bakers’ supervising lawyer Liz Williams said the firm has handled a lot of pro bono work for the UNHCR due to a wish to help asylum seekers at the same time as undertaking high-level international legal work.
“I’m sure the fact that the cases are about asylum seekers does play a part in getting lawyers involved,” she said. “It’s an issue of concern. It’s the type of issue that motivates lawyers. It involves international law at quite a high level that lawyers don’t always get the chance to do.”
Williams said the UNHCR aims to ensure that countries take a consistent approach to international law, especially in relation to refugees.