Asylum seeker research shortlisted for ESRC prize

Published on: 13 June 2016

Dr Nick Gill's research has been shortlisted for an ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize

Exeter research contributed to the release of hundreds of asylum seekers from detention after the Detained Fast Track (DFT) rules were ruled unlawful by High Court Judges.

Dr Nick Gill’s research contributed to the evidence which illustrated to policy makers and the higher courts that detained asylum seekers did not have time to properly prepare their cases under the time limits imposed by the rules.

Documenting the experiences of asylum seekers subject to the DFT rules in depth, the research, combined with the legal arguments made against the DFT, demonstrated that the process was structurally unfair. This caused judges to find that the appeals process as it operated was unlawful, and resulted in the government suspending the whole of the DFT process in 2015.

This research has seen Dr Gill being shortlisted for a prestigious Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Celebrating Impact prize. These awards recognise outstanding ESRC research that has made a significant difference to people’s lives.

Established in 2000, the Detained Fast Track (DFT) involved incarcerating asylum seekers to make fast decisions on their cases using on-site tribunals. Human rights groups objected that the deprivation of liberty involved was merely for administrative convenience.

Dr Gill worked with Detention Action, a charity, and with the Migrants’ Law Project, to provide evidence for a legal case against the DFT. His research into UK asylum procedures collected evidence that DFT applicants were required to navigate too many legal obstacles in the amount of time that was allowed. This helped convince a High Court judge, whose written judgment repeatedly referred to the project evidence, that the Fast Track Rules were unfair and unlawful, a decision which was later upheld by the court of appeal.

The DFT was subsequently suspended, meaning that hundreds of people were released from detention (in 2013 alone, 4,286 people were detained in the DFT), and many more are now able to have their cases heard more fairly.

Dr Gill explained the value of the work of his researcher, Dr Rebecca Rotter, who attended many DFT cases in the course of the research. He said: “In-person observation of a large number of DFT cases indicated that applicants often did not understand the process they were going through.

“They did not understand why they were in detention or the legal rights available to them, and struggled to find legal representation. They were under tight time constraints to prepare their cases.”

He added; “This judgment indicates the important role that social scientific research can play in legal argument. Making the wrong decision on an asylum claim can have grave consequences, like forcibly returning someone to face torture or violence.

“The suspension of the DFT has strengthened the independence and impartiality of asylum determination procedures, and enhanced the integrity of the UK legal system.”

Related links

» Dr Nick Gill

» Asylum Appeals


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