Helping detainees in need of medical assistance

Campaigning, Policy Work and Legal Challenges

Medical Justice has access to unique evidence on the healthcare and conditions in detention centres, which we are able to use to highlight the implications of particular policies and when policies and procedures have not been followed.

We raise our concerns directly with policy makers and through campaigning. We also contribute to legal challenges, by providing witness statements and by acting as Intervener.

An ‘intervention’ In law is a procedure to allow someone, like Medical Justice, who is not a party to the complaint to join ongoing litigation. An intervention is useful where a judgment in a particular case may affect the rights of non-parties, who should have the right to be heard.

In this way Medical Justice can provide evidence to be considered by the courts We appreciate that we can call on high quality lawyers who are willing to work pro bono on these interventions. We have also brought some cases ourselves.


Some of the Cases we have been Involved with Include:

2016 : Medical Justice and BID intervene jointly in the case of R (O) v SSHD in the Supreme Court –  regarding detention of the mentally ill

This case concerned the detention of people with serious mental illness and the courts approach to detention challenges. The Home Office argued that detainees’ health would be ‘satisfactorily managed’ if their condition did not deteriorate, even if treatment was available outside of detention which would allow them to recover from their illness.

The Supreme Court rejected that argument, finding that, if a detainee’s health could improve with treatment which would be available in the community, but which was not available in detention, then that should be considered. It is the Home Office’s responsibility to make inquiries about community-based treatment which could make a difference to the detainee’s condition.

Read the Judgment here.


2014: Medical Justice and Mind intervene jointly in the case of R (Das) v SSHD in the Court of Appeal – regarding detention of the mentally ill

Medical Justice and Mind intervened in this case regarding the interpretation of Home Office policy, which states that “those suffering from a serious mental illness which cannot be satisfactorily managed within detention” can only be detained in “very exceptional circumstances”. The Court of Appeal overturned the High Court decision that ‘serious’ required hospitalisation or detention under the Mental Health Act, noting evidence that many of those with serious mental illnesses are best treated in the community and some mental illnesses would be exacerbated by hospital treatment.

Read the Judgment here.


2013: Rule 35 and torture victims

Pre-action letter regarding torture definition
Medical Justice issued a Letter Before Claim challenging the Home Office narrowing of the definition of torture to ill-treatment inflicted by state agents. The Home Office conceded the issue and agreed to apply a broader definition.


2012: Mistreatment of man with mental illness.

This was a joint intervention with Mind intervene jointly in the case of HA (Nigeria). Because of his mental health he should not have been detained. He was transferred between hospital and detention centres several times, exacerbating his symptoms. His treatment and the conditions in which he was held were found to amount to a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment. The relevant detention policy – which had been changed to allow people with mental illness to be detained if they could be satisfactorily managed in detention – was also found to be unlawful. Medical Justice and Mind were granted permission to jointly intervene in the Court of the Appeal, but the Home Office withdrew its appeal.  R (HA (Nigeria)) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Rev 1) [2012] EWHC 979 (Admin)


2010: Zero notice for removals

Medical Justice brought a legal case against UKBA on its ‘zero-notice’ removals policy. In July 2010 the High Court quashed the UKBA policy.

Immigration officers had been descending on vulnerable people late at night and transporting them under guard to early morning flights a few hours later with no access to legal advice. The policy applied to vulnerable categories of people, including unaccompanied children and those considered to be a suicide risk. We know that UKBA were relying on the policy to remove families now that the detention of children is more restricted.

UKBA appealed the High Court decision in the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision in November 2011. UKBA stated its desire to appeal to the Supreme Court but in February 2012, they confirmed that they were no longer intending to appeal.


2009: Access for independent doctors to immigration removal centres

In 2009 UKBA and its contractor, Serco, at Yarl’s Wood detention centre tried to restrict access to detainees by independent doctors. Medical Justice started Judicial Review proceedings against UKBA and Serco. The case was settled out of court with UKBA withdrawing most of its restrictions, thus preserving detainees’ rights to access independent doctors.


"Medical Justice, through its work with individual detainees as well as through its important research, has shone a light on many malpractices – such as the unlawful detention of children, torture victims and those with serious mental illness – through this work they have not only made a huge difference to many individuals who have suffered maltreatment but helped bring about really important changes in practice. Medical Justice's ability to match up health professionals with detainees in urgent need of an independent consultation has been critical at times. It is crucial that organisations such as Medical Justice continue to exist to prevent unlawful practices and ensure that we do not depart even further from basic humanity and compassion towards all human beings."

(Harriet Wistrich, Birnberg Peirce and Partners)