Detention Action Press Release
Wednesday 5 February 2020
London – for immediate release


Human Rights charity Detention Action has issued a legal challenge over the Home Office’s failure to provide effective access to legal advice to those held in Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs). The challenge follows ongoing mobile phone signal outage in the Heathrow detention centres, which has left those facing imminent removal from the UK unable to contact their solicitors or NGOs that assist with referrals to solicitors. Detention Action is seeking to compel the Home Office to issue alternative SIM cards and to ensure that anyone facing removal is given adequate time to access legal advice.

On Tuesday 3rd February, Supperstone J in the High Court issued an Order requiring the Home Secretary to file a written response to the application for interim relief by 4pm on Thursday 6 February 2020.

The phone outage coincided with the crucial period leading up to removal charter flights that went ahead on 29 January to Nigeria and Ghana and on 30 January to France.

As the outage continues, a third charter flight to Jamaica has been scheduled for 11 February, despite concerns over the ability of those affected to seek legal advice in relation to their intended removal. If it goes ahead, this will be only the second charter to Jamaica since the Windrush scandal broke in 2017.

The legal challenge concerns weeks of disruption to Lycamobile signal in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook IRCs, the closest detention centres to Heathrow Airport that act as the staging post for many removals from the UK. Phone signal has been severely disrupted since early January 2020 due to a fault with an O2 mobile phone mast in the area.

Mobile phones provided by the Home Office at the outset of detention are the principal means by which those held in IRCs are able to access legal assistance, contact their solicitors and families, and access support services.

The challenge argues that the Home Office’s failure to provide an adequate means of communication breaches both Home Office policy (see note 3 below) and the common law right of access to legal advice and the courts. It seeks to compel the Home Office to immediately provide SIM cards for alternative providers in order to ensure that no one will be removed from the UK without being afforded effective access to legal advice and assistance.

During the ongoing outage period, Detention Action’s casework service has experienced a sharp drop-off in enquiries from people held in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook IRCs and has been unable to contact 30 clients. Where contact has been possible, Detention Action’s clients have described major problems in being able to contact their legal representatives.

Those held in immigration detention often have an acute and urgent need for legal advice and assistance, for example to challenge their detention or to assess the merits of challenging an order for their removal to the country in which they claim to be at risk of persecution. Their right to effective access to legal advice and assistance is a fundamental constitutional right, guaranteed at common law.

Bella Sankey, Director of Detention Action, said: “If you’re locked up in a detention centre and face being sent back to a country where your life is in danger, phone signal is a lifeline not a luxury. Your phone is your connection to the outside world, and the only means to defend yourself against a wrongful removal.

“The remedy for this situation is simple, and the Home Office must ensure that anyone it intends to remove from the UK has access to adequate legal support.”

David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, said: “This technological failure is having very human consequences and the Home Office must start taking notice.

“People are being locked up in immigration detention centres, families are being ripped apart, and people who thought the UK was their home are facing removal on 11 February to a country they do not know. All without proper access to a lawyer, a most basic element of British justice.

“The devastating effects of the Windrush scandal should be very much in the forefront of the Home Secretary’s mind as she considers this important legal challenge and the upcoming charter flight to Jamaica scheduled by her department amid serious problems with access to justice.”

For media enquiries please contact Matthew Leidecker on 07950387130 or by email to
Spokespeople are available for broadcast interview.
Notes to editors:
1. Detention Action is a national charity established in 1993 that seeks to defend the rights and improve the welfare of people in immigration detention by combining support for individuals with campaigning for policy change. Detention Action works in Harmondsworth and Colnbrook IRCs near Heathrow Airport in London, Morton Hall IRC in Lincolnshire, and with people held under immigration powers in London prisons. We work with around 1000 individuals held in detention each year.
2. High Court Order of Tuesday 3rd February, along with grounds and witness statement, is available on request.
3. The relevant Home Office policies are:
The Detention Services Operating Standards manual for IRCs stipulates as a standard, “to ensure that detainees are aware of their right to legal representation and have access to it.”
Detention Services Orders (DSOs)
– DSO 05/2018: Mobile phones, internet enabled devices, and cameras.
– DSO 06/2013: Reception, induction and discharge checklist and supplementary guidance.
– DSO 03/2014: Sets out the requirements for the Service of Removal Directions, including the necessary minimum notice periods (72 hours, of which 2 days including the last 24 hours must be working days, for normal enforcement cases; 5 working days for third-country cases; 5 working days for charter flights with special arrangements).

– DSO 05/2018: All detainees must be provided with  a mobile phone (unless they have a personal mobile phone with no camera or internet connectivity, in which case they must be allowed to keep their own basic phone).