Outlined below are some of the press and media reports from this year. It features some of our cases. It is important for grassroots campaigns to have their voices heard.
The Public Interest Law Centre wants to ensure that clients and campaigns are able to explain their own problems and legal cases in their own words.
Parliament apologises for photographing rough sleepers.
Diane Taylor 19th September 2019
Parliament has apologised to a group of rough sleepers who bed down close to the palace of Westminster after taking individual photos of them without their permission while they slept.
About 20 people sleep rough in and around the tunnels connecting parliament to Westminster tube station. They woke last Friday to find a cleaning contractor employed by the parliamentary estate taking photographs of them.
One man, a 45-year-old from Latvia who works on a building site, said he was astonished to be woken up by someone taking photographs.
“A manager deliberately came and took photos of us while we were sleeping. There were about six of us sleeping upstairs and 12 of us downstairs,” he said. “We were so shocked about this. Downstairs in the tunnel leading to parliament is the best place in London for rough sleepers to sleep. It’s warm and it’s safe because there are lots of cameras around here. I don’t understand why pictures of us were being made. This was a proper mistake. We know they want to move us out and maybe that’s why they were taking our photos.”
BBC London news coverage – here
15th July 2019.
Brimstone House residents in Newham are getting organised. They have had enough of living in ‘long term temporary’ accommodation. 19 residents agreed to be interviewed by the Public Interest Law Centre who then submitted a legal complaint to the council with support from Focus E15 campaign. Listen to one amazing resident Egwolo on this report about conditions at the hostel by BBC local news, plus one of our solicitors from PILC.
Judicial Review to start on the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre next week – article here
Katherine Johnson 10th July 2019
A judicial review into the Elephant and Castle shopping centre regeneration will begin next week, as campaigners dispute accusations their legal challenge has led to more uncertainty for traders – and lay the blame squarely at landlord and developer Delancey and Southwark Council’s doors.
The High Court hearing is due to be held on Wednesday, July 17 and Thursday, July 18, where campaigners will find out if the entire scheme could be called into question over its lack of affordable housing and impact on small businesses, a majority of whom are from the Latin American community.
The last-ditch legal challenge to Delancey’s plans is supported by the Public Interest Law Centre and Southwark Law Centre.
The shopping centre has been slated for demolition since 2016, when landlord Delancey first submitted its application for redevelopment. But its blueprint for a new town centre has been beset by years of disputes. A decision was deferred on three occasions and gained more than 1,000 objections.
Despite assent from the Mayor of London, there is still no formal timeframe for demolition, and, meanwhile, remaining traders are attempting to continue business as usual – despite high-profile closures including, most recently, Tesco.
In March, after the judicial review was announced, a Delancey spokesperson told the News: “It is now likely the timeline for starting on site will be pushed back, which is likely to have a direct impact on a significant number of existing businesses located in the shopping centre, who were hoping for stability and certainty in order to plan for their future.”
Tanya Murat, spokesperson for Southwark Defend Council Housing, poured scorn on the idea uncertainty was the campaigners’ fault: “The local community and traders have had to fight hard for just about every improvement made to Delancey’s proposals, over nearly three years,” she said.
“We had no real social housing, no place for the traders to move to and no relocation fund when we started.
“It is outrageous that Southwark Council and Delancey are blaming us for delays.
Her comments were echoed by Public Interest Law Centre solicitor, Paul Heron, who said: “This is a vital legal challenge that campaigners have been forced into making, by Southwark Council and Delancey’s failures.
“Going to court is not something anyone does lightly and Delancey and Southwark should not be using the up and coming judicial review to cover up their own lack of progress in assisting traders.”
However, the process has been paused in advance of next week’s hearing, with payments yet to be made.
Southwark Council’s cabinet member for growth, development and planning, Cllr Johnson Situ, said the council ‘strongly refuted’ any claims it had not delivered on its promise to do ‘all it can’ to support Elephant and Castle shopping centre traders.
“Since the start we have pushed developers to ensure traders have relocation support and funding, and the approval of the planning application is clear that it is subject to this support and the £634,700 relocation fund being in place,” he said.
“This can only really kick in when the planning permission is free from challenges, such as the current Judicial Review application.
“While campaigners are able to bring this challenge forward on any application, the fact remains that it does have an impact on the timeline for the project, which leaves many of the independent traders uncertain about their future.
“In the meantime we have been working with traders and Tree Shepherd to find new homes in spaces at the specially created Castle Square and Perronet House arcade, and in Delancey’s Elephant One.”
Thirty-six businesses, he told the News, have already taken up offers on these units.
Secret plan to use charities to help deport rough sleepers – article here
Mark Townsend Sat 6 Jul 2019 21.00 BST
The Home Office has drawn up a secret programme using homelessness charities to acquire sensitive personal data that could result in thedeportation of non-UK rough sleepers, the Observer can reveal.
A chain of emails from senior Home Office officials from December 2018 to May 2019 also shows that the clandestine programme ignores European privacy laws by passing rough sleepers’ sensitive personal information directly to the Home Office without their consent.
The scheme, which is still in a trial phase, is seen by charities and campaigners as the latest manifestation of the Home Office’s much maligned “hostile environment” policy. A previous plan to
deport EU rough sleepers was defeated 18 months ago when the high court deemed it unlawful and discriminatory.
But the Home Office, apparently undeterred, has rolled out a remarkably similar new scheme which, according to an internal email, will lead to “enforcement in some cases” – deportation – and targets “non-UK” and non-EEA (European Economic Area) rough sleepers, which after Brexit will include EU nationals.
Gracie Bradley, policy and campaigns manager for the human rights charity Liberty, said: “It’s disgraceful that the Home Office, local authorities, and charities are attempting to turn trusted homelessness outreach workers into border guards. Homelessness charities must refuse complicity in the hostile environment.”
A spokesman for the Public Interest Law Centre, which won the high court case, said: “It’s now clear the Home Office – with the Greater London Authority, local councils and some homelessness charities – is trying to resurrect this discriminatory policy under a different guise.”
The correspondence reveals that some refugee charities have already been asked to forward cases to the programme, called the Rough Sleeper Support Service (RSSS), and at least one has agreed. Emails also reveal that homeless charity St Mungo’s has attended meetings with the Home Office to discuss allowing outreach workers to enter a homeless person’s data into RSSS without their consent.
An email, dated 10 April 2019 from a Home Office official, confirmed the scheme “provides a single point of contact for LAs [local authorities] to receive rapid immigration status checks on non-UK national rough sleepers”. It also explains why it wants to bypass privacy laws: “A system relying on consent to comply with the GDPR [EU General Data Protection Regulation] would be vulnerable to individuals withdrawing consent.”
Another email, dated 18 February 2019 to GLA officials, shows that targeting homeless individuals would be prompt, saying “immigration [status] checks are completed on rough sleepers within 24 hours of a referral”.
Obtained through freedom of information requests from Liberty, the correspondence says the scheme is spearheaded by the lead officer for previous immigration enforcement operations and will be “utilised to resolve the non-EEA national rough sleepers situations”. The emails also chronicle Home Office frustration that the programme is still in the test phase because of a failure to agree a data-sharing deal with charities and local authorities.
The emails show significant opposition from charities with “push back” from several including St Mungo’s and migrants advocacy group Praxis, who warn of “reputational risks” for groups linked to the scheme. According to one email, Praxis raised several concerns, including that the scheme risked “poorly made decisions”, was unnecessary and that it was “unclear if RSSS referral would make detaining and removal of rough sleepers at their reporting appointments more likely”.
The charity raises fears that the programme will be primarily geared at removing rough sleepers. “There appear to be no immigration decision-makers in the RSSS, just immigration officers. The culture embedded in the RSSS seems to be one of enforcement,” it said in an email sent on 3 May 2016.
Even as the scheme was conceived, fears existed that it would be controversial. One email, sent on 18 December 2018, from a GLA officer to the Home Office, cites a “possibility of bad press surrounding the RSSS and there needs to be a clear line on what this team is and how it can help ensure no one dies on the streets”.
Although some emails show that sharing information with the Home Office could help prioritise a person’s case and ensure homelessness charities offered the right support, Bradley said referrals will likely result in immigration enforcement action.
She said ministers should be concentrating on combating the root causes of homelessness rather than targeting rough sleepers. “Consent and data protection should also be at the heart of our interactions with public institutions,” she added.
The Public Law Interest Centre spokesman added: “Despite its name, the new RSSS offers no ‘support’ to homeless migrants living in the UK. It is an ‘hostile environment’ measure in all but name.”
A St Mungo’s spokesperson said the charity had met Home Office staff “to find ways to respond more quickly” to non-UK cases. “In particular, we are seeking to ensure people who may use the service do so based on informed consent and legal advice from a registered immigration adviser,” they added.
A Home Office spokesman said the RSSS was set up “to help resolve the immigration status of non-UK nationals sleeping rough, either granting lawful status or providing documentation. This enables individuals to access support or assists them in leaving the UK where appropriate.” He added: “The service prioritises support work on outstanding cases and helps to resolve status issues.”
A London mayoral spokesperson said: “Heavy-handed enforcement is not the solution to rough sleeping and our services will have no part in it. We have made absolutely clear to the Home Office that we do not support their approach or any other that victimises people sleeping rough.”
The latest homelessness figures show 8,855 people were seen sleeping rough in London during 2018-19, 18% higher than the previous 12 months
How Labour councillors fail us – and why they shouldn’t
Paul Heron 18th June 2019
Hackney Community Law Centre is facing a financial crisis brought on by a Labour council cutting its funds. Many law centres are going to face the same as central government slashes central grant funding to local government – most at the hands of Labour councils.
It is not just legal services and law centres that are facing the funding crisis. From libraries, to youth clubs, from care homes to other essential services, austerity has forced the pace. Let us make it clear these are Conservative cuts to local government finances, however Labour councillors with all the characteristics of a modern day Uriah Heep ‘ever so ‘umbly’ carry them out declaring ‘there is nothing we can do!’ This is cowardice and a dereliction of their current and historic duty. Labour was established by the trade unions and the working class to advance their interests not to represent the ruling class.
In 2018 the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC) through judicial action stopped the forced sale of Southall Town Hall. The home of many charities and community groups, the sale of the town hall would have made all of them homeless. Without a base, many of these vital community groups would have ceased to exist. The sale according to Ealing council Labour councillors was necessary to ‘plug the gap’ in the cuts expected in the council’s finances. Campaigners were told ‘there was no alternative’. Since the successful judicial review action the council have not re-visited the decision, and the sale (at least at this stage) has been stopped.
We’re all in this together?
Austerity, the brainchild of the Tory/Liberal coalition and nurtured by the current Conservative government, has been a disaster for every region in the UK. It was and is a political decision not an economic one, and as a result child poverty has exploded. It is a national scandal, The Independent last month reported: ‘The number of youngsters who fall below the poverty line rose to 4.1 million between 2010-11 and 2017-18… . More than half of youngsters are affected in some areas.’ It is estimated that by 2010 it will be 5.1 million. At the same time 17,000 benefit claimants have died waiting for benefits…… (read the full article here )
Lack of covert policing inquiry is discrimination, says activist Tilly Gifford – article here
Emma Yoemans 3 June 2019
An environmental activist has launched a new bid for an investigation into Scottish undercover policing amid claims that covert officers from England brought romantic partners on trips north of the border.
Tilly Gifford has been campaigning for an investigation into the practice in Scotland, but lost her bid at the Court of Session in Edinburgh in November. With the support of the Public Interest Law Centre she is raising money for a new legal appeal under the European Convention on Human Rights. Her legal team argue that it is discriminatory to deny Scottish activists the same investigation into their treatment as that afforded to their English and Welsh counterparts.
Nick McKerrell, a lecturer in law at Glasgow Caledonian University, said that if people’s privacy had been invaded they had a legal right to know how and why. “Someone in England would have a remedy for this, because there is an inquiry going on down there. The fact that the inquiry explicitly doesn’t cover Scotland means that someone up here will not have any remedy, so within the UK there is discrimination,” Dr McKerrell said.
Ms Gifford was part of the Plane Stupid campaign against airport expansion and claims that she was asked to spy on her fellow activists. She released recordings of men claiming to be from Strathclyde police that suggested they were willing to pay for information.
She lost her last appeal for an inquiry after a judge ruled that her specific treatment was not a “violation of psychological integrity” and did not require further investigation.
Ms Gifford said: “Undercover political policing in Scotland is a fact. My appeal contends that not only was there clear evidence of undercover political policing happening in Scotland, but that it was widespread.”
Paul Heron, a lawyer at the Public Interest Law Centre and part of Ms Gifford’s legal team, said: “It seems crazy that while social justice activists, trade unionists and campaigners in England and Wales can seek justice at a public inquiry, their compatriots in Scotland have no such vehicle.
“Anyone who reads this report will realise what was going on in Scotland was illegal and unethical surveillance of activists whose only crime was to campaign to protect jobs, save the environment from climate change or end global injustice.”
Nearly a decade ago it was revealed that undercover police officers had relationships and children with women while undercover. A review from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland found that undercover officers from the Metropolitan Police had been deployed to Scotland, but concluded that undercover policing had not been extensive.
However, a report released last week by the Scottish Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance revealed that Mark Kennedy, the undercover officer at the centre of the relationship scandals, took women he was romantically involved with on trips to Scotland.
The Metropolitan Police has acknowledged that the relationships breached the European convention, and issued an apology.
The terms of the inquiry in England and Wales limit it from investigating Mr Kennedy’s trips to Scotland, because it will not investigate English deployments north of the border or Scottish police actions.
UK arrest warrant for Sri Lanka attache over throat-cut gestures revoked – article here
Owen Bowcott and Diane Taylor – Fri 1 Feb 2019 16.20 GMT
An arrest warrant for a former Sri Lankan military attache, convicted of public order offences after making cut-throat gestures at protesters, has been revoked without a court hearing following Foreign Office involvement.
The private prosecution of Brig Priyanka Fernando has degenerated into extraordinary legal confusion, forcing the chief magistrate, Emma Arbuthnot, to take control of the case.
On Friday, she told Westminster magistrates court there had been a catalogue of “disappointing” issues and she did not know how such a sensitive case could have gone to trial without it “ever coming across my desk”.
Fernando was filmed making cut-throat gestures aimed at Tamil protesters outside the Sri Lankan high commission in London on 4 February 2018. Demonstrators were highlighting concerns about human rights violations against Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority. Footage of the incident went viral on YouTube.
Following his provocative gesture, the Sri Lankan government condemned Fernando for behaving in an “offensive manner” and suspended him from his job. The Foreign Office (FCO) also protested; Fernando left the UK shortly afterwards.
Majuran Sathananthan and four others involved in the Tamil protest initiated a private prosecution against Fernando arguing that his behaviour caused them “harassment, alarm and distress” and constituted public order offences. They were represented by Paul Heron, of the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC).
Last week the brigadier was convicted in his absence at Westminster magistrates court of two offences under section 4A and section 5 of the Public Order Act which involve using threatening words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. The court also issued an arrest warrant for Fernando, who remains in Sri Lanka.
The conviction appears to have triggered a stream of diplomatic exchanges, with the UK ambassador in Sri Lanka called in for meetings.
After consultations with the FCO over the status and extent of Fernando’s diplomatic immunity, the chief magistrate abruptly withdrew the arrest warrant – a decision made without a public hearing.
At the hearing on Friday, Fernando was, for the first time, represented in court. Peter Carter QC, for the protesters, outlined a series of “rather unusual” options to deal with the case, including determining the diplomatic status of Fernando.
Carter said that even if the brigadier had enjoyed immunity for official functions, that would not protect him from prosecution for what was clearly not authorised activity.
Nick Wayne, counsel for Fernando, suggested using section 142 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980, a rarely used power to reopen cases where a mistake has been made.
Belinda McRae, counsel for the FCO, confirmed that the court had been given a certificate explaining Fernando’s diplomatic status. The chief magistrate adjourned the case until 1 March for a full hearing to resolve the legal confusion.
Before the hearing, an FCO spokesperson said: “The FCO, which is not a party to these legal proceedings, has been contacted by Westminster magistrates court seeking clarification of the brigadier’s diplomatic status in the UK at the time of the incident. The FCO is providing documentation to assist the court.”
London court hears against Brig. Priyanka Fernando – article here
21st January 2019
The Westminster magistrate’s court in London today (21) resumed hearing the case filed against former defence attache at the Sri Lankan high commission Brig. Priyanka Fernando under the Public Order Act.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry has told BBC Sinhala Service that the case would not affect Brig. Fernando in any way.
The case relates to an alleged throat-slitting gesture made by Brig. Fernando to Tamil protesters in front of the high commission on 04 February last year.
Helen Mowatt of the Public Interest Law Centre that appears for the complainants said there were two witnesses who had seen the military officer making that gesture.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saroja Sirisena said diplomatic immunity would prevent Brig. Fernando from being taken before courts.
She said no decision has been taken yet whether the government should make legal representations on behalf of him.
Meanwhile, Army spokesman Brig. Sumith Atapattu said the Army had not been informed about a case being filed against the former defence attache in London.
UK court issues arrest warrant for Sri Lanka brigadier – article here
21st January 2019
The Westminster Magistrate’s Court has issued an arrest warrant for Brigadier Priyanka Fernando of the Sri Lankan army earlier today, having found him guilty of committing public order offences whilst stationed in London.
Fernando was found guilty of violating sections 5 and 4A of the Public Order Act, with the court stating that his actions were threatening, caused harassment, and that he intended them to be so.
A private prosecution was brought against the Sri Lankan soldier who was filmed motioning a death threat to Tamils in London last year, running his finger across his neck whilst dressed in full military uniform. He was attending a celebration at the Sri Lankan High Commission in the UK to mark ‘Independence Day’ at the time, whilst British Tamils held a demonstration outside with placards and Tamil Eelam flags. Sri Lankan officials were also seen photographing the protestors in an apparent act of intimidation.
The court also heard evidence of how the three Tamils who filed the case were threatened by Sri Lankan authorities after the incident last year.
One Sri Lankan embassy official was reported to have told eyewitness Sabeshraj Sathiyamoorthy, who filmed the incident, “If you come back to Sri Lanka, you will be detained at the airport and go missing. We will do what we need to do.”
Sathiyamoorthy also received threats by phone from callers who withheld their number, and had 200 missed calls one night, reports the Morning Star. The callers reportedly spoke Sinhala.
Other Tamils who testified said their family in Sri Lanka had been threatened by authorities over the case. Another witness told of how plainclothes intelligence officers visited his family in Sri Lanka, and warned that he would be killed if he were to ever return.
The brigadier, who was stationed in Britain as Sri Lankan military attaché at the time, was tried in absence, with the Public Interest Law Centre stating that Fernando was “served with the bundle, documents, evidence, months before the prelim hearing”.
“Then months before served with the hearing date…. and apparently [he] chose not to attend,” it added on Twitter.
Chief Magistrate Sonia Henley said she was “satisfied every effort had been made” to serve the charges on him, during Monday’s hearing.
Lawyers from the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), who acted on behalf of the complainant, told reporters outside the court that they would now look to ensure that Fernando is brought to the UK to face justice.
“PILC and the private prosecutors will be appealing to relevant members of parliament to ask questions from both the foreign secretary and the home secretary to see what steps they can take to make connections with the Sri Lankan government and ask for him to be brought back to UK and to face justice to the public order offences that he’s been found guilty of,” Solicitor Paul Heron told JDS.
The PILC added, “This is a great result – the culture of impunity enjoyed by Sri Lankan officials has been challenged today. Mr Brigadier Fernando, part of a military force who has allegedly committed war crimes, will no longer be able to evade accountability for his actions here in the UK.”
The Sri Lankan military responded to Monday’s developments however by dismissing the outstanding warrant.
“If a warrant has been issued then the relevant authorities must follow the due procedure in order to inform us formally” Media Spokesperson of Sri Lanka Army Brigadier Sumith Atapattu told Times Online.
“We are not concerned over such media reports. If we receive an official notification then we shall act accordingly,” he added.
Fernando also led troops in a military offensive in 2009 that massacred tens of thousands of Tamil civilians. He was also part of the 59 Division of the Sri Lankan military, implicated in the shelling of hospitals south of Mullaitivu.
Threatened Tamils bring case against Sri Lankan diplomat – article here
Phil Miller – 16th January 2019
TAMIL protesters who received death threats from a Sri Lankan soldier in London have filed a private prosecution after the Metropolitan Police failed to take action, writes Phil Miller.
Brigadier Priyanka Fernando, a defence attache at the Sri Lankan embassy, was filmed making chilling slit-throat gestures at protesters from the country’s Tamil minority during a demonstration last year.
Police did not arrest Mr Fernando and he was able to leave Britain. He no longer works at the embassy.
The soldier’s presence in London was particularly controversial as war-crime investigators have linked him to massacres of Tamils by the Sri Lankan army, including the shelling of a hospital, during the country’s civil war.
Now Mr Fernando is facing a private prosecution in Britain under the Public Order Act and Offences against Persons Act for using threatening behaviour.
The case will be heard at Westminster Magistrate’s Court on Monday with lawyers from the Public Interest Law Centre in Lambeth representing three Tamil complainants.
They have been assisted by the International Centre for the Prevention and Protection of Genocide in Wembley. The court will see video evidence of the incident filmed by Tamil activist Sabeshraj Sathiyamoorthy.