Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA
Even though 1,600 trafficking victims were entitled to remain, former home secretaries Priti Patel and Suella Braverman have been accused of operating a secret policy to deny them leave and the Home Office unlawfully failed to issue permission to stay, the court said.
In November 2021, a landmark high court ruling concluded that confirmed victims of trafficking who had claimed asylum and were waiting for a decision should be automatically given permitted stay in the UK. This is known as discretionary leave.
However, on Wednesday, at a hearing, the Home Office was accused of unlawfully failing to issue these decisions, leaving them unattended, unable to access the right to work, study or claim mainstream benefits.
The 22-year-old trafficking victim, known as XY (her identity must be kept anonymous), is being represented by the charity Asylum Aid. He brought the case that his human rights had been breached. At the age of 16, he escaped traffickers in Albania who forced him to sell drugs for them and threatened to harm his family if he refused to comply. Unfortunately, his lawyers claimed that because of the policy, he was denied leave to remain for almost 18 months.
Counsel for XY, Chris Buttler KC told the court on Wednesday: “It’s unlawful to operate an unpublished policy which is inconsistent with a public policy.”
Cathryn McGahey, KC for the home secretary, told the court, “This case is about delay. It is not a case about secret or unpublished policies.”
In written arguments, the counsel for the home secretary argued that they had simply been waiting for the outcome of appeals to the court of appeal and Supreme Court against the landmark November 2021 ruling before acting.
An email from a Home Office official dated 8 July 2022 stated: “All discretionary leave decisions affected by (the November 2021 ruling) currently remain on hold.”
Internal emails show officials were keen that the delay received no publicity. An email dated 11 January 2023 states: “We will have to carefully consider the reputational impact of this change in policy and how this is viewed by both stakeholders and senior parliamentarians, specifically the right honourable Sir Iain Duncan Smith and the right honourable Mrs Theresa May.” Both May and Duncan Smith have worked to introduce laws to protect victims of trafficking.
From the Braverman’s office, in an email on 14 February 2023, a question was raised about whether “doing nothing” was an option. “Our consolidated view is that is not an option we can recommend to ministers. We continue to see judicial reviews lodged on grounds linked to the delay in implementing the … judgment,” an official said.
Edited by: Vicky Muzio
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