UK

Detained asylum seeker entitled to damages, court rules

Scales of Justice

An asylum seeker who says she fled from torture in Sudan is entitled to damages from the government after she was held unlawfully, the High Court has ruled.

The 42-year-old spent 37 days in a detention centre after arriving in England, despite strong evidence she had been raped and tortured repeatedly in her homeland, the court heard.

The judge said her detention had been "unreasonable and truly disgraceful".

Home Secretary Theresa May has conceded the woman's detention was unlawful.

In a case brought against the home secretary, the judge, Mr Justice Collins, said there was strong medical evidence to support the woman's claims she had been tortured in Sudan.

The woman was referred to in court as IKM and cannot be named for legal reasons.

She spent three weeks in hospital as a result of further damage to her health following her detention between December 2013 and January 2014, the court was told.

Ordering damages to be assessed either by the High Court or a county court, the judge said: "She was someone who should not be detained unless there were very exceptional circumstances. There were none."

'Cast iron case'

The woman, who worked as an accountant in Sudanese capital Khartoum, said she had returned to her home village in Darfur to care for her family after her father was murdered and mother kidnapped by the Janjaweed militia group in 2004.

The court heard her fiance was killed in a later Janjaweed attack, and she was shot in the leg and raped.

The woman escaped to another village but was detained for three days in 2006 by state security agents on suspicion of being a Darfur rebel. She was raped, stabbed with a knife and beaten. She was raped and beaten when detained again in 2007.

In 2008 she came to England to study, but claimed asylum in the Republic of Ireland.

The judge said she had thought she could not make a claim in the UK because she possessed a student visa. But her claim and subsequent appeal were rejected in 2010 and she returned to England.

The Home Office certified that the EU's Dublin Regulation rules on asylum meant she should be returned to Ireland and that it was for the Irish authorities to conclude whether there were humanitarian reasons to give her refuge.

The regulation states asylum claims should be handled by the member state that played the greatest part in the applicant's entry or residence in the EU.

In his ruling, the judge quashed the Home Office decision and said IKM's story was consistent and credible, and up to five different doctors had agreed she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

He described the woman's asylum claim as a "cast iron case", although he stressed it would be for the Home Office to decide whether the woman should be allowed to stay.

The judge refused the home secretary's application to appeal against the decision. It is still open to the home secretary to make an appeal to the Court of Appeal directly.