Public Interest Lawyers is an extraordinary firm of solicitors, who must be – certainly should be – the pride of the legal profession. Through their tenacity, quality and sheer hard work – often from unpromising beginnings and in dark times for public funding – they have single-handedly been responsible for shining the torchlight of legal accountability in a range of new areas. The work continues unabated. No barrister or judge, here or in Strasbourg, could have come to deal with the sorts of human rights issues which PIL continues to raise, but for their principled and brave pursuit of justice.

 

PIL demonstrates three further important things. First, how positive and constructive can be the use of public funding in public law cases, in the public interest. It has been hard. But PIL and the LSC have forged a partnership which is second to none, as to the importance of the cases that are brought, their success and their wider impact. Secondly, PIL demonstrates that London does not always lead, and a London-centric focus is neither helpful nor fair. This firm, from what are still sometimes thought of as “the provinces”, is the nation’s leader for human rights application in challenging cases. That PIL is looking, as a Birmingham-based firm. How refreshing for it to be that way.Thirdly, let it not be forgotten that PIL was set up as a new firm of solicitors. This is not the further and continued work of an established firm, set up long ago when times were different. This was an innovation; a leap of faith in the rule of law. It was a boat launched in a sea of uncertainty, which has turned out to be the flagship for public law accountability under the rule of law.

 

Michael Fordham QC
Michael Fordham QC
 
 

The Guardian: Child detention in immigration centres faces legal challenge

The Guardian, 26 October 2010, Alan Travis
 
A high court challenge to bring to an immediate end the detention of children in immigration removal centres was launched today.

The case is being brought on behalf of two single mothers and their children who were detained by UK Border Agency (UKBA) officers in dawn raids on their homes earlier this year.

Lawyers acting for Reetha Suppiah and Sakinat Bello say they have evidence that even short periods in detention are unlawful as they cause serious harm to children.

The case, which is expected to last three days, is being brought by Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), with the human rights group Liberty and the campaign group Bail for Immigration Detainees also intervening.

The Home Office said it was fighting the case as it remained committed to the removal of those found by the courts to have no right to remain in the UK.

"The ability to enforce removals when necessary is a key part of a sustainable immigration system," a Home Office spokesman said.

He added that the detention of families would be kept to a minimum while officials drew up an alternative arrangement that would protect the welfare of children without undermining immigration law. The immigration minister, Damian Green, recently assured refugee welfare groups that this work would be completed by the end of the year.

But both PIL and Liberty have accused the coalition government of stalling on its pledge immediately after the election in May that it would end the detention of children for immigration purposes.

Jill Duffy of PIL said that five months after the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, called it a moral outrage, children continued to be held in prison-like conditions.

Suppiah and her two sons, aged one and 11, were taken to Yarl's Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire in February and detained for 17 days. Bello was detained at Yarl's Wood for 12 days before being released back into the community. Upon arrival all the children became sick, suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting.

"It appears that the welfare needs of the families were not properly taken into account or even assessed prior to the decision to detain, and the detention experience has had a profound effect upon them," PIL said.

The latest published UKBA figures show that 110 children were detained between April and June this year. Five children were being held in removal centres on 30 June. But more than 1,085 children were detained during the course of 2009. One child was held for 158 days but the average period was two weeks.

Liberty's legal officer, Emma Norton, said: "This has gone on too long and we look to the courts to put an end to it this week. Prison is no place for a child and defending such an unsavoury position is no place for the new government."


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