In July 2014 the High Court upheld the principle of a Detained Fast Track (DFT) process as lawful. However, the Court found that the DFT process as operated carried an “unacceptable risk of unfairness” with regard to vulnerable applicants within the system. This was primarily because they were not guaranteed access to lawyers sufficiently soon after induction to enable instructions to be taken and advice to be given before the substantive interview. The Home Office took immediate steps to address this and other criticisms of the process.
The judgment observed that the current asylum screening process did not do enough to identify and exclude from DFT vulnerable people or those with particularly complex claims. We have since changed the questions asked in the screening interview to help address this issue and there is an ongoing review of the screening process that incorporates discussions and input from external stakeholders.
Detention Centre Rule 35:
Detention Centre Rule 35 requires doctors in immigration removal centres to issue reports to Home Office officials with responsibility for authorising, maintaining and reviewing detention, if they have concerns about issues of particular vulnerability. Those issues include particular ill-health, suicide risk and concerns that the detainee may have been a victim of torture. Whilst acknowledging that a Rule 35 report issued by a medical practitioner relating to possible torture concerns may sometimes reflect only the detainee’s own claim and so not require automatic release, the judgment nonetheless concluded that the evidence did not show the process to operate as well as it should.
Releases can and do result from Rule 35 reports and a recent sampling exercise has reconfirmed this position and identified some other issues for improvement. We have already taken steps to improve awareness of existing process requirements. We have consulted external partners on improvements to the operation of Rule 35 and further measures will introduced in the coming months to ensure that the process operates as effectively as possible.
Access to legal representation:
The judgment stated that in some cases, legal representatives were allocated to asylum applicants too late in the DFT process, which was considered significant enough to carry a high risk of unfairness for those who may be vulnerable. On the 14th and 15th of July the Home Office implemented new arrangements, that ensured that legal representatives were are allocated to asylum claimants that require them (around 50% of asylum claimants arrive with a lawyer already) on the day of induction to DFT or, where that is not possible, no later than 2 working days after induction. In addition we are now ensuring that there are 4 clear working days between the allocation of a lawyer and the asylum interview except where the asylum claimant and lawyer advise that they want an earlier interview.