The Home Office says you don’t need to know about its ‘spying’ on lawyers

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Image of GCHQ donught building. Doesn't look like a doughnut. Look. Oh c'mon, can't you see - open your eye.

Original article republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Exclusive: Government refuses to answer questions about its surveillance of immigration lawyers

Jenna Corderoy 24 April 2023, 10.00pm

The government has refused to answer questions about its “monitoring” of human rights lawyers – saying revealing the extent of its surveillance is not in the public interest.

In February, immigration minister Robert Jenrick admitted during a parliamentary debate that the Home Office is “monitoring the activities” of “a small number of legal practitioners”, after claiming that “human rights lawyers abuse and exploit our laws”.

Using Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, openDemocracy asked the Home Office how many legal practitioners it is monitoring, the nature of the monitoring and when it began. We also asked which unit within the department is carrying out the surveillance or if it has been outsourced to private firms.

The Home Office has now rejected the request, saying it is not in the public interest to disclose any of the information. openDemocracy has appealed against this decision.

Paul Heron, senior solicitor at the Public Interest Law Centre, told openDemocracy: “Government ministers spying on lawyers sounds like something from an authoritarian state. It is a direct threat to the rule of law and undermines the principles of justice and fairness.

“State surveillance of lawyers, and indeed any worker, is a clear violation of human rights and civil liberties and undermines the very foundation of a free and democratic society.”

Heron added: “The Home Office’s refusal to respond openly, adequately and indeed at all to the FOI request from openDemocracy regarding the monitoring strategy of lawyers by the Home Office should be a real concern, indicating not only a fundamental lack of transparency but a fundamental lack of accountability.”

State surveillance of lawyers, and indeed any worker, is a clear violation of human rights and civil liberties

Jon Baines, a senior data protection specialist at law firm Mishcon de Reya, shared Heron’s concerns.

Speaking to openDemocracy, Baines said: “The secrecy shown by the Home Office is regrettable, particularly as there is a distinct lack of any meaningful analysis of the public interest factors weighing in favour of disclosure.

“Secret monitoring of lawyers by the state has very serious connotations, and if the information really is exempt from disclosure, it is incumbent on the Home Office to give more detail and more justification for what is an inherently oppressive activity.”

The Home Office’s silence comes ahead of the return of the Illegal Migration Bill to the Commons this week, for its third and final reading before moving to the Lords. On Monday, the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned that the bill “risks breaching international obligations to protect human rights and exposing individuals to serious harm”.

The government claims the legislation will deter people from crossing the English Channel in small boats.

In February, Tory MP Bill Wiggin used a parliamentary session about a violent incident outside a hotel used to temporarily house asylum seekers in Knowsley, Liverpool to ask about legislating to stop such crossings.

Jenrick replied: “This is one of the most litigious areas of public life. It is an area where, I am afraid, human rights lawyers abuse and exploit our laws.”

The Home Office must give more detail and more justification for what is an inherently oppressive activity

Later in the debate, Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael asked: “The minister told us a few minutes ago that part of the problem here is human rights lawyers who abuse and exploit our laws… could the minister tell the House how many solicitors, advocates and barristers have been reported by the Home Office in the last 12 months to the regulatory authorities?”

Jenrick did not answer the question or provide figures. Instead, he said: “We are monitoring the activities, as it so happens, of a small number of legal practitioners, but it is not appropriate for me to discuss that here.”

At the time, Jenrick’s comments prompted dismay and concern among lawyers.

In its FOI refusal, the Home Office stated that a disclosure would “inhibit free and frank analysis in the future, and the loss of frankness and candour would damage the quality of risk assessments and deliberation and lead to poorer decision-making”.

Explaining its decision to withhold the information, the department said: “The Home Office has a process that allows caseworkers to check companies and individuals are qualified to provide immigration advice and reporting mechanisms that allows us to escalate any issues to regulatory bodies.”

Original article republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Continue ReadingThe Home Office says you don’t need to know about its ‘spying’ on lawyers

Home Office condemned over refusal to disclose numbers on Manston detainees potentially held unlawfully

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THE Home Office has been accused of hiding figures on the number of people it detained at Manston for longer than the legal limit in order to avoid paying them damages.

Potentially thousands of ex-detainees held at the notorious asylum-processing facility in Kent may be eligible for compensation, campaigners have claimed.

This is because asylum law requires asylum-seekers held at facilities like Manston to be released within 24 hours.

However, inspectors found that many had been detained for well over the limit, including families who’d been at the site for four weeks, putting the government in breach of the law.

It’s unclear how many asylum-seekers were potentially held unlawfully at Manston after numbers at the site swelled to 4,000 in early November, well over the maximum capacity of 1,600.

Continue ReadingHome Office condemned over refusal to disclose numbers on Manston detainees potentially held unlawfully

Two Afghans tell of how they were taken from Manston centre and left without accommodation or money

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People taken from Manston immigration holding centre have described their dismay at being deposited late at night in central London, without accommodation, appropriate clothing or money.

Amid growing controversy over the circumstances in which large numbers of people were bussed out of the acutely overcrowded camp, the Home Office has insisted that it only released asylum seekers who told staff that they had family or friends they could stay with.

But two people from Afghanistan told the Guardian that they were brought to London without having a clear idea of where they could stay. They describe scenes of rushed confusion as staff ushered them on to buses at the holding centre, before they were abandoned at Victoria railway station.

A young asylum seeker from Afghanistan was among the group of 11 people left on the street outside Victoria station on Tuesday evening. He said he had told Home Office staff during an interview before leaving the camp that he had no relatives or acquaintances in the UK.

“They asked me if I had any friends or family and I replied I had no one in England,” he said. Later he was asked by officials what city he would like to go to, and he said he would like to go to London, assuming that accommodation would be provided for him.

The young man, who asked not to be named, said he asked the bus driver where he should go as they arrived at Victoria station. “I thought there was going to be a hotel for us. He said: ‘Go anywhere you want to go, it’s not my responsibility.’ I told the driver I don’t have any address or any relatives. He said: ‘I can’t do anything for you.’”
Continue ReadingTwo Afghans tell of how they were taken from Manston centre and left without accommodation or money

Priti Patel news

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UK Murdoch Home Secretary Priti Patel appears in recent news items.

Priti Patel’s new powers to remove citizenship would turn ethnic minority Brits into second-class citizens

Consider the following example, because it’s about to come true. Someone has been a British citizen for decades. They go on holiday. When they try to return, they’re told that the Home Secretary has stripped them of their citizenship. They are not told why. They are not told the charges against them. They have no functioning right of appeal. They have been made stateless, by ministerial fiat.

This would be the consequence of a new provision added to Priti Patel’s Nationality and Borders bill, which goes through the Commons over the next couple of days.

Making someone stateless has long been seen as one of the most egregious actions a government can take. In the words of Hannah Arendt, the great scholar of totalitarianism, it deprives people of “the right to have rights”. It makes you an unperson: without protection, without home, without legal status.

Jailed for 51 weeks for protesting? Britain is becoming a police state by stealth George Monbiot

This is proper police state stuff. The last-minute amendments crowbarred by the government into the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill are a blatant attempt to stifle protest, of the kind you might expect in Russia or Egypt. Priti Patel, the home secretary, shoved 18 extra pages into the bill after it had passed through the Commons, and after the second reading in the House of Lords. It looks like a deliberate ploy to avoid effective parliamentary scrutiny. Yet in most of the media there’s a resounding silence.

Among the new amendments are measures that would ban protesters from attaching themselves to another person, to an object, or to land. Not only would they make locking on – a crucial tool of protest the world over – illegal, but they are so loosely drafted that they could apply to anyone holding on to anything, on pain of up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment.

It would also become a criminal offence to obstruct in any way major transport works from being carried out, again with a maximum sentence of 51 weeks. This looks like an attempt to end meaningful protest against road-building and airport expansion. Other amendments would greatly expand police stop and search powers. The police would be entitled to stop and search people or vehicles if they suspect they might be carrying any article that could be used in the newly prohibited protests, presumably including placards, flyers and banners. Other new powers would grant police the right to stop and search people without suspicion, if they believe that protest will occur “in that area”. Anyone who resists being searched could be imprisoned for – you guessed it – up to 51 weeks.

The truth behind Priti ‘pull the drawbridge up’ Patel

Recently, the Guardian broke the news that the reason we are seeing increasing numbers of asylum seekers on our beaches is because they have cottoned on to the fact that, thanks to Brexit, we are no longer part of the Dublin Agreement. This inconvenient truth seems to have escaped Farage and Johnson and all those who are hell bent on ruining the country’s economy at any cost if we can only get control of our borders.

Since 2016, the Tory party has rapidly morphed into the BNP-NF-Brexit Party-UKIP-Tory party but how far has it gone? 

Put it this way. Now it’s suppressing its own reports on the reasons people make the treacherous journey across the channel. Home Office data show two thirds of those attempting to make the crossing are genuine refugees, many coming from war-torn parts of the world. As one of the world’s largest exporters of arms, the UK has had a great deal to do with creating the hell that they are escaping.

But the Home Office is not publishing this data. Why? Because it doesn’t fit the narrative. These are inconvenient truths that the Tories don’t want people to hear. So best they just make out that the asylum seekers are illegal immigrants coming over here to scrounge benefits and get a nice hotel on the back of the taxpayer.

Continue ReadingPriti Patel news

UK politics

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Recent UK politics articles and one about abuse in Florida.

“I want to use this election to raise awareness of the imminent danger posed to the NHS by the EU/US trade agreement which will allow American companies to carve up the NHS and make the privatisation process irreversible.

“I also want to alert the public to the gravity of the threat to the NHS from this government with its programme of cuts, hospital closures and privatisation and to send a powerful message to politicians in Westminster and Brussels that people will not stand by and let their NHS be destroyed.

“If elected, I will strive to ensure that EU regulations don’t adversely affect the NHS and are always in the best interests of the health of British people. The health of the nation spans all areas of policy from the environment to the economy”.



Continue ReadingUK politics