On the 14thDecember 2017 the High Court ruled that the Home Office policy of detaining and deporting rough sleepers from EEA countries for allegedly “abusing” EU free movement rights was unlawful.

Mrs Justice Lang DBE granted the claims for judicial review in the cases of Gureckis, Perlinski & Cielecki v the Secretary of State for the Home Department. It was a significant day for the Public Interest Law Unit as we had highlighted that one of the main showcase policies of the government was not only unlawful, but it was a major blow against their ‘hostile environment.’

The case had been heard over 3 days between 21 and 23 November 2017.

Background issues.

Since 2010, the Home Office, in conjunction with local council and with the active assistance homelessness charities had introduced successive polices aimed at tightening control over EEA nationals.

The Home Office, in collaboration with homeless charities St Mungos and Thamesreach, carried out regular raids on locations they believed they would find EEA nationals who could then be detained and removed from the UK. EEA nationals, most of whom were from Eastern Europe, and who were found rough sleeping were designated as abusing their EU free movement rights. Further to that policy, the policy advised that they could be ‘administratively removed’ which usually meant being dumped in a detention centre, and then kicked out of the UK. This applied regardless of whether they were working, regardless of whether they had a permanent right of residence, and regardless of their family ties to the UK.

The Court held that that the policy was unlawful on the following grounds:

  1. Rough sleeping was not an ‘abuse of rights’ within the meaning of article 35 of Directive 2004/38/EC on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States (as embodied in domestic law in regulation 26 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016).
  2. The policy discriminated unlawfully against EEA nationals and rough sleepers. This flowed from ground 1. The policy treated rough sleeping EEA nationals less favourably than British nationals, without any justification.
  3. The application of the policy involved unlawful ‘systematic verification’ in breach of the express terms of Article 14(2) of the Directive.

This is a significant victory for our clients and for many other affected by the policy. Many organisations noted its significance. 

Migrants scapegoats for austerity policies.

The background to this policy was twofold. Firstly, it had a broad ideological basis with its foundations in the ‘hostile environment’ targeting EEA nationals for removal. The policy danced to the tune of a government agenda which was anti-migrant. It saw the Brexit vote as anti-migrant, when it was a vote as much against an EU/IMF/ECB pan-European austerity.  Secondly, the policy was utilised as a smoke screen. There have been vicious cuts in state provision in public services. The policy of targeting migrants aims to distract from high rents, low wages and the reality of a race to the bottom. It is important to remember that many of people affected by the Home Office policy were working, or had worked for a long time in the UK – many had permanent residence – one of our clients who was set to be removed had his children in the UK.

In order to bring this case we had an amazing team of people, solicitors, barristers, campaigners from the North East London Migrant Action and a researchers. It was full on strategic litigation at its best.

As we said at the time:

“We are delighted that the court has been willing to protect the rights of a vulnerable group of workers who have been stigmatised both by the authorities and by sections of the media. Experience shows that if we stand by and allow a marginalised group to be victimised others can expect the same treatment later. Homelessness cannot humanely be dealt with by detaining or forcibly removing homeless people. This practice has been found unlawful and must immediately cease.”