On  December 14th 2017 the High Court ruled that the Home Office’s policy of detaining and deporting EEA-national rough sleepers for allegedly “abusing” EU free movement rights was unlawful.

In a major victory for campaigners against the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ for migrants, 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.

The case was heard over 3 days between 21st and 23rd November 2017.

Background

Between 2010 and 2017 the Home Office, in conjunction with local councils and with the active assistance of some homelessness charities, introduced a succession of polices aimed at removing EEA-national rough sleepers from the UK.

Immigration enforcement, in collaboration with homelessness charities St Mungos and Thamesreach, carried out regular raids on the sleeping sites of EEA-national rough sleepers. Many were subsequently detained and removed. According to Home Office policy, EEA nationals found rough sleeping were ‘abusing’ their EU free movement rights and could therefore be ‘administratively removed’.  This often mean being dumped in a detention centre before being put on a flight to their country of origin. Many of those detained were in work. Rough sleepers were targeted regardless of whether they had a permanent right of residence or 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 unlawfully discriminated 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.

The Gureckis judgment was an important victory for our clients and for many other affected by the policy, with the Free Movement website amongst many who noted its significance. 

Making migrants scapegoats for austerity policies.

The Home Office’s policy of removing rough sleepers was part of the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’. The ‘abuse of right’ policy chimed with the agenda of a government which saw the Brexit vote as anti-migrant (when it was in fact as much a vote as much against EU/IMF/ECB pan-European austerity). But  the policy was also utilised as a smoke screen. Targeting migrants serves 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 in the UK or had previously worked for a long time. Many had permanent residence and one of our clients who was set to be removed had his children in the UK.

In bringing this case we worked with an amazing team of people: solicitors, barristers, researchers and campaigners from North East London Migrant Action. This 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.”