News & Views Monday 9th March to Sunday 15th March 2020

Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Women’s Health Inequalities

The aim of the LBT Women’s Health Week is to raise awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer women’s health inequalities, to make it easier for service providers to empower service users and to make it easier for communities to support LGBTQ women. Up front, I will declare an interest as a lesbian, who also suffers from anxiety and other mental health issues. I know that my own experiences have taught me a huge amount. In recent months and years of reflection since I came out in 2015, I have had a little bit of time, despite the political storms we have lived through in recent years, to reflect on some of the reasons why it took me so long to come out. I am very grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, and to the many charities and organisations that operate in the LGBTQ space that have provided briefings for today, as well as our healthcare professionals—I know we will discuss them today, but we must pay tribute to them—and to the Women and Equalities Committee and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which have done much work and produced reports that many of us will draw on. I know some controversial issues will be discussed today, but I am certain that we will hold this debate and have our discussions with respect and integrity.

Read more: Hannah Bardell,

 Freedom in the World 2020 - A Leaderless Struggle for Democracy

Democracy and pluralism are under assault. Dictators are toiling to stamp out the last vestiges of domestic dissent and spread their harmful influence to new corners of the world. At the same time, many freely elected leaders are dramatically narrowing their concerns to a blinkered interpretation of the national interest. In fact, such leaders—including the chief executives of the United States and India, the world’s two largest democracies—are increasingly willing to break down institutional safeguards and disregard the rights of critics and minorities as they pursue their populist agendas.

As a result of these and other trends, Freedom House found that 2019 was the 14th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The gap between setbacks and gains widened compared with 2018, as individuals in 64 countries experienced deterioration in their political rights and civil liberties while those in just 37 experienced improvements. The negative pattern affected all regime types, but the impact was most visible near the top and the bottom of the scale. More than half of the countries that were rated Free or Not Free in 2009 have suffered a net decline in the past decade.

The unchecked brutality of autocratic regimes and the ethical decay of democratic powers are combining to make the world increasingly hostile to fresh demands for better governance. A striking number of new citizen protest movements have emerged over the past year, reflecting the inexhaustible and universal desire for fundamental rights. However, these movements have in many cases confronted deeply entrenched interests that are able to endure considerable pressure and are willing to use deadly force to maintain power. The protests of 2019 have so far failed to halt the overall slide in global freedom, and without greater support and solidarity from established democracies, they are more likely to succumb to authoritarian reprisals.

Read more: Freedom House,

Immigration Bail Policy Updated

The Home Office has updated its policy guidance on immigration bail, with a couple of changes to note. First, asylum seekers who have exhausted their appeal rights will no longer automatically be subject to study restrictions. This is the result of successful litigation from Hannah Baynes at Duncan Lewis, and is not the first time the Home Office has given ground on this issue. The Secretary of State will now need to properly consider whether a restriction on studying is “necessary on the facts of the individual’s case”. It is difficult to think of a situation where barring people from education could be considered “necessary”, so hopefully this rather mean-spirited provision will fall out of use.

Second, the Home Office will now have five working days to decide whether someone who is not detained should be granted bail accommodation under Schedule 10 of the Immigration Act 2016. For certain groups, such as homeless people or pregnant women, officials will make “reasonable efforts” to ensure a decision within two working days. Accommodation delays are still a big issue for those working with detained clients. Lengthy delays responding to accommodation requests, often after bail has been granted “in principle” by an immigration judge, has kept hundreds in detention for prolonged periods.

Read more: Freemovement,

Forced Marriage Protection Orders - the Approach to Take

Applications for forced marriage protection orders (“FMPO”s) made pursuant to s.63A of the Family Law Act 1996 are on the rise: in 2018, the government’s Forced Marriage Unit provided advice or support in 1,764 possible forced marriage cases; a significant increase from the following 1200-1400 cases in 2017. Also in 2018, Family Court statistics indicate that 322 applications were made and 324 orders granted. Despite applications being made by police, who must seek leave to make such an application under s.63C(3) of the Family Law Act 1996, and local authorities, the legislation itself does not provide clear guidance as to how the court should deal with such applications. The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has now done so in Re K (Forced Marriage: Passport Order) [2020] EWCA Civ 190.

Issues considered: The key questions for the court were as follows, paraphrased from [14]:
1. Does the court have jurisdiction where the subject of the order is an adult who has mental capacity and, if so, should that jurisdiction be exercised?
2. Does the Family Court have jurisdiction to require the protected person’s passport to be removed and retained by the authorities and, if so, does that include jurisdiction to make an open-ended or indefinite Passport Order?
3. What approach should be taken where there is an apparent conflict between a protected person’s article 3 and article 8 rights?
The majority of the judgment focussed upon the final question.

Read more: Elizabeth Fox, Seargent’s Inns Chambers,

Morton Hall IRC - Still to Violent - High Levels of Self-Harm

Inspectors have discovered high levels of self-harm, violence and use of force at an immigration detention centre in Lincolnshire where one detainee had been held for more than two years. Uncertainty about detainees’ immigration status and the potential for long-term detention continue to cause frustration at Morton Hall immigration removal centre (IRC), a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) says. Inspectors found cases in which the Home Office had decided to continue to detain individuals despite accepting they had been tortured, the report says. The UK has one of the largest immigration detention systems in Europe and is the only country in the region without a statutory time limit on length of detention.

Inspectors found that Morton Hall IRC, which is operated by the prison service on behalf of the Home Office and holds adult men subject to immigration control, had improved since the last inspection in 2016 but most of the safety concerns remained. Detainees held for lengthy periods were often detained because of documentation problems, a lack of suitable accommodation or casework inefficiencies, the report says.

Read more: Jamie Grierson, Guardian,

Briefing: A Manufactured Refugee Crisis at the Greek-Turkish Border

Dramatic scenes have been playing out in recent days at the land and sea borders between Greece and Turkey: Greek police tear-gassing and pushing back crowds of asylum seekers at a northern border crossing; the Hellenic Coast Guard firing warning shots at a dinghy full of asylum seekers in the Aegean Sea; angry protesters preventing another group in a dinghy from disembarking in the port on the island of Lesvos.

The images have been exploited by a savvy Turkish media campaign aimed at maximising pressure on the EU to support Turkish action in northwest Syria and to share more of the burden for hosting refugees. According to refugee advocates and human rights groups, Turkey’s politicisation of the refugee issue and the suffering at the EU’s borders are a predictable outcome of the EU-Turkey deal – a cornerstone of EU efforts to curb irregular migration across its borders.

“This is a broader consequence of the EU-Turkey statement,” Sophie McCann, an advocacy manager for the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), told The New Humanitarian. “We’ve been saying it for four years: it’s never going to work. It’s clearly failed.”

The EU and Turkey signed the agreement in March 2016 after more than one million people – mostly refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war – crossed from the Turkish coast to Greece in the course of a year. At its centre, the agreement called on Turkey to prevent asylum seekers and migrants from reaching the EU in exchange for six billion euros ($6.7 billion) in financial assistance for refugees in Turkey and the eventual creation of a legal resettlement pathway to Europe, among other incentives.

Since it was signed, the agreement has created a years-long humanitarian crisis on the Greek islands and turned refugees into a bargaining chip wielded by Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdoğan to extract support and policy concessions from the EU, according to refugee advocates and human rights groups.

On 28 February, the Turkish government announced that it would no longer prevent asylum seekers and migrants from leaving Turkey, unleashing scenes of chaos and sending the Greek government scrambling to prevent people from crossing its borders. "What did we do yesterday? We opened the doors," Erdoğan told the Turkish parliament on 29 February.

Read more: New Humantarin,