Derwentside immigration removal centre: new legal challenges

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Two new legal challenges are being mounted against Derwentside IRC, a controversial immigration detention centre for women in County Durham.

National charity Women for Refugee Women and an individual claimant are taking separate legal action against the Home Office over a lack of in-person legal aid offered to detainees in the centre.

This comes after legal action focused on planning permission for Derwentside was previously launched by local campaigner Owen Temple.

Women for Refugee Women state on their website: “Unlike in other detention centres, where men are detained, women at Derwentside are only able to access legal advice over the phone. Despite assurances in the Equality Impact Assessment that an in-person service would be available, the Home Office opened Derwentside without this in place.”

Gemma Lousley, Policy and Research Coordinator (Detention) at the charity, previously told Palatinate that “many of the women are survivors of sexual abuse and violence. This can often be very difficult to open up about.”

“If I hadn’t received good legal representation, I would have been removed by now and I’m afraid that I would be dead.”

Individual claimant

The charity explains that “being denied access to in-person legal advice will exacerbate the difficulties women already face in disclosing these experiences, since they are expected to talk about what happened to them to someone they have never met, over the phone.” Difficulty in disclosing such experiences can result in delays in release from detention and inaccurate or incomplete legal advice, according to the charity.

The individual claimant says: “It has been really difficult for me to find legal advice since coming to Derwentside detention centre. I spoke with many employees here about getting a lawyer, but they gave me excuse after excuse, always telling me to come back tomorrow.”

The claimant eventually found a lawyer to take on her case: “If I hadn’t received good legal representation, I would have been removed by now and I’m afraid that I would be dead.”

Women for Refugee Women have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help cover legal costs.

The Home Office was contacted for comment, and responded with a factsheet on Derwentside.

The factsheet states that “the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) operates free legal advice surgeries in IRCs in England. Individuals who are detained are entitled to receive up to 30 minutes of advice regardless of financial eligibility or the merits of their case. Legal visits and email, phone, video-call contact can be arranged seven days a week. “All individuals in IRCs are also provided with a mobile phone and have access to landline telephones on request, fax machines, email and video-calling facilities which can be used to contact legal advisers, family and friends.”

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