High Court orders Government to respond urgently to Covid-19 immigration detention legal challenge

Detention Action Press Release
Friday 20 March 2020
London – for immediate release

High Court orders Government to respond urgently to Covid-19 immigration detention legal challenge 

The High Court has ordered the Government to urgently respond to the legal challenge launched by human rights charity Detention Action over the Government’s failure to safeguard those held in UK Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) from Covid-19.

The Order, issued by Mr Justice Swift, sets a deadline of 6pm today (Friday 20 March) for the Government to respond to the issues raised by the legal challenge.

The Order comes as Detention Action continues to hear from its anxious clients currently held across the immigration detention estate, including those with relevant underlying health issues such as diabetes, HIV and Asthma, who report a lack of access to adequate healthcare, unsanitary conditions and little or no information regarding Covid-19.

Yesterday in Parliament, the Home Affairs Select Committee heard evidence on the preparation for, and response to, Covid-19 by the Home Office. The Committee heard from Lucy Moreton, Corporate Officer, Immigration Services Union, who said that “no procedures had changed” in IRCs and that “they are not testing because no testing is available.” Ms Moreton also stated that the Heathrow IRCs were currently in lockdown for “seasonal flu”.

Ms Moreton further accepted that “In light of the advice given by Foreign Secretary removal to anywhere globally is going to be problematic.


Detention Action’s legal challenge concerns the lawfulness of continued detention while global travel restrictions prevent removals from the UK, and while conditions in detention centres present an increased risk of serious harm and death resulting from an outbreak of Covid-19.

Detention Action is seeking the review and release of all those currently held under immigration powers and an immediate halt to further detentions.

The challenge is supported by expert evidence from Prof. Coker (Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) who has advised that “it is credible and plausible that 60% of immigration detainees will soon become infected with COVID-19.” In light of this, Prof. Coker recommends that detainees should, if possible, be released (for reports see note 2 below).

For further background, see previous press release here.


For media enquiries please contact:

Matthew Leidecker, Campaigns Manager

Spokespeople are available for broadcast interview.

Pre-action Protocol letter and grounds available on request.
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. Prof. Coker’s report is available here and supplementary report available here.
3. Stephen Shaw’s 2016 Review into the welfare in detention of vulnerable persons is here and 2018 follow-up review is here
4. Detention Action is represented by Duncan Lewis Solicitors, and Ayesha Christie and Chris Buttler of Matrix Chambers.