Deaths in police custody: Protest hits Downing Street

Families of those killed in police custody have invited campaigners against detention centres to join them in a protest in Whitehall tomorrow.

The United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) is a coalition of families and friends of those who died in the custody of police, prison staff, secure psychiatric hospitals or immigration detention centres. They're marching in a silent procession down Whitehall and then conducting a noisy protest outside Downing Street.

Independent Police Complaints Commission figures suggest there were 11 deaths in or following police custody in 2013/14, 68 apparent suicides following police custody and 39 other deaths following police contact, as well as 12 in road traffic fatalities involving the police.

Campaigners are particularly concerned about teenagers who find themselves in contact with police. Under a legal loophole, 17-year-olds are treated as adults in police stations and are often put in custody overnight or through the weekend for minor offences, such as cannabis possession.

That was the situation in December 2013, when Kesia Leatherbarrow was picked up by Greater Manchester police and kept in a cell all weekend. She had been distraught throughout, banging her head and pulling her hair. She was released on bail Monday morning after a trip to Tameside magistrates court. Hours later, she was dead. It was the third death in three years of a 17-year-old after they had been treated like an adult in a police station.

This year there have been two deaths in immigration detention centres. Christine Case had been in Yarls Wood detention centre ten days when she died of a massive pulmonary thrombo-embolism. The investigation into the death of Rubel Ahmed in Morton Hall is still ongoing, but he is understood to have committed suicide.

Experts warn that detention centres significantly worsen mental health conditions because there is no time limit on detention. Not knowing when you're getting out puts a severe emotional and psychological pressure on the detainee.

There are also warnings about the ineffectiveness of rule 35, which is supposed to ban the Home Office from detaining anyone who has been tortured. This mechanism is not worth the paper it is written on. Just six per cent of its reports led to release.

The UN Committee Against Torture has branded it an "empty paper-pushing exercise". A joint review by the inspector of prisons and the chief inspector of borders and immigration said the medical reports on torture survivors were "often perfunctory" and "contain no objective assessment". Replies to the reports were "cursory and dismissive".

In the high court last July, Mr Justice Ouseley said safeguards for making sure torture victims, trafficked people and those with mental health problems were protected were unsatisfactory.

All manner of terrible things happen in detention, prison, police stations and secure psychiatric hospitals because they're away from prying eyes. Tomorrow's protest will go some way towards addressing that.

Revealed: How immigrants feel about the immigration debate

For all the time dedicated to the immigration debate in the papers and on TV, there is one voice you rarely hear from: immigrants themselves. No-one asks what their opinion is. No-one asks how the coverage affects them.

Migrant Voice has taken a step toward addressing this with research covering the impact of the immigration debate on those who have come to live here. It is startling. Those who once felt they belonged here are starting to feel as if they do not. They are exhausted. They feel as if they need to justify their existence every day.

I've been given the preliminary finding of the report, which is due to come out in a few weeks. The research was conducted between June and August, with migrants from a wide range of backgrounds using an online survey, one-to-one interviews and focus group sessions in Birmingham, Glasgow and London. A total of 182 people took part. They're mostly between 25 and 44 years old and have overwhelmingly been living in the UK over three years. The largest group was black African in origin – Nigeria was the most popular country - followed by white European and white other, with Poland and Slovakia leading the pack.

Once upon a time, things were more positive. Even now, the majority still feel they belong in the UK and are well integrated into society. As one said:

"I've been here for 25 years. And I feel this is home for me. I feel 100% British. And I feel I'm happy I took the decision to stay in this country. I have three children who are doing very well. So I feel this is a country of opportunities, where everyone who wants to work hard can achieve."

But 63% of respondents said the debate on immigration exerts an influence on their sense of belonging. Most migrants aren't even comfortable calling it a debate. A debate involves two sides talking. They feel they are just being shouted at. Only 12% of all articles on immigration actually bother to quote an immigrant. Less than four per cent of respondents felt politicians or the media represented migrants in an accurate way.

As Nazek Ramadan, director of the group, says:

"This research shows that migrants feel a sense of belonging in their local communities. Unfortunately they feel less a part of the country as a 'debate' about migration goes on around them without them being part of it and with the evidence and context missing. Most are increasingly anxious and even expressed fear for themselves and their families at the direction of the 'debate' by many leaders and in some media."

Which stories most affected migrants? They appear to have been particularly hurt by the coverage of Bulgarian and Romanian communities, but also by the 'Go Home' van campaign and increases in stop and search.

Two-thirds of those participating in the research said they had been personally affected by the tone of the coverage. It’s worth listening to them express it in their own words:

"Sometime the media make you feel ashamed and of course, with the consequent feeling of being out of place."

"It makes me feel like we are guilty of everything, that migrants should be blamed for everything.  Even starting from the economic crisis, through to the benefits problems, bedroom tax and the NHS cuts. Everything. That's how it’s being portrayed by the media."

"While I normally feel perfectly integrated, the words used by some politicians and sections of the media make me feel excluded."

The cruel irony is that the media commentary often includes demands for immigrants to integrate, but it is the tone of the commentary which actually pushes them away and makes them feel less at home.

"How can you feel like you belong in a society that makes it all too clear it hates you and wants you gone?"

"I used to feel like I belonged. Now I feel unwelcomed."

Participants were asked to select from 12 words to explain how the coverage made them feel. The most popular word was 'worried' followed by 'sad', 'not welcomed', 'threatened' and 'insulted'. Fewer than ten selected the words 'valued' or 'included'. Under 'other' they wrote: 'disgraced', 'embarrassed', 'scapegoated', 'angry' and 'depressed'.

Chillingly, one wrote:

"I prefer to send email rather than speak on the phone for I don't want to be treated differently just because of my accent."

There is a glimmer of hope. The anger is directed at politicians and the media. But the coverage has not yet had an overwhelming effect on migrants' daily life in their community or the way they see their neighbours. Fifty-six per cent said the debate had no effect on their relationship with the British public – although 44% said it did. This broadly tallies with polling showing anti-immigrant views to be most popular where there are the fewest immigrants. Despite the noise, on the streets this remains a mostly good-tempered country.

But how long will it withstand the brazen irresponsibility of the political class and the media? MPs are united – almost to a man – in never saying a single positive word about immigrants. Every day the press grows ever more accusatory and hateful in its coverage. Migrants themselves are frozen out, turned into the other -  a workshy, benefit-claiming parasite who is simultaneously taking all the best jobs. Ukip consciously conducts its debate in base terms, whipping up anti-immigrant sentiment in order to serve its political programme.

If we continue down this road, they will pit our communities against one another. The immigration debate, and the manner in which it is being conducted, is doing us terrible damage.

Very quietly, the coalition tries to dismantle judicial review

When the local council gave permission to put up a 66 metre wind turbine next to the home of Chris and Julia Holder, it initially seemed they were powerless to stop it. Despite 1,125 letters of objections, the plans went through. It was judicial review which gave the couple the ability to fight the case in the Court of Appeal.

When the Department for Education stripped headteachers of their discretion to approve absences during term-time, a group of parents suddenly found they couldn't afford to take their kids on trips overseas. They used judicial review to challenge the decision.

When Sefton Borough Council refused to fund care for elderly Ms Blanchard until she'd diminished her savings to £1,500, it was judicial review which ended up finding the policy unlawful. The decision forced 120 other authorities to review their budget decisions and saved vulnerable people from having their savings slashed to pay for care.

Judicial review sounds boring. You shouldn't put it in a headline, as I have, because people won't click on it. You can’t mention it across a dinner table because everyone will stare at their plate and wait for you to shut up. But it is one of the most powerful tools citizens have over their government. In almost every case of injustice by the Home Office I've come across – especially in relation to immigration and asylum – it is judicial review which allowed the most vulnerable people in the country to challenge the most powerful.

When Chris Grayling was found to have turned legal aid into "an instrument of discrimination", it was because of judicial review. When two immigration officers detained, shouted at, bullied, harassed, imprisoned and conspired against an innocent Indian mother, how did her family fight the case? Judicial review.

So of course it should come as no surprise that the government is trying to dismantle it in the Lords this afternoon. They will do so not by banning it or anything as obvious as that. Instead they will do what the coalition always does: price it out. They will make it too expensive and risky for anyone but the most reckless and wealthy to contemplate.

As shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter told Politics.co.uk:

"Judicial review is an important constitutional method in which the individual can hold the powerful state to account. The public would take a very dim view if any politician sought to undermine that fundamental principle for their own narrow political advantage. Chris Grayling should heed this warning and reverse his plans to curtail judicial review before it is too late."

Or as Bar Council chairman Nicholas Lavender said:

"If a government department or local authority did something you thought was unlawful, like stop your business from trading, close your mother's care home or relocate your child's school, what would you do? Judicial review is an important tool to stop dodgy decision-making by public authorities. It is fundamental to our system of justice and the rule of law that members of the public, including the weakest and most vulnerable, have an effective means of scrutinising and checking executive power."

Part four of the criminal justice and courts bill tries to dismantle judicial review through a four-pronged attack. First, it restricts the use of protective costs. Second, it exposes friends, relatives and associates of a claimant to financial costs. Third, it makes charities and NGOs who get involved in a case liable for costs. And fourth, it shields public bodies which have acted unlawfully from public scrutiny.

Protective costs limit how much of the other side's legal costs you have to pay if you undertake the case. Without it, the financial costs of pursuing judicial review become very daunting. The bill prevent judges granting protective cost orders until permission is granted, a stage which already requires lots of expensive legal work to get to. It's not even a problem – only a handful of these orders are granted a year anyway.

Prong two of the attack makes claimant's friends, colleagues, family and associates – anyone who might be able to help them financially, basically - liable to the legal costs. The emotional impact of this is severe. Someone may be willing to risk their own wellbeing and livelihood for something they believe in, but it feels entirely different if you’re risking the livelihood of those around you.

The measure against charities and NGOs is basically an attack on expert commentary. You can see why. Officials at the Ministry of Justice always seem averse to hearing from experts, because experts so rarely agree with them. As things stand, they can only contribute expert advice and guidance with the permission of the court. Making them liable to costs just freezes out people who know what they're talking about from participating in the legal process.

Finally, a no-difference threshold will mean authorities can escape legal challenges even when they’re plainly acting improperly.

Lord Pannick, Lord Woolf, Lord Carlile, and Lord Beecham are all tabling amendments trying to halt the changes. They are right to do so. This is an assault on accountability, scrutiny and civil society's participation in the political process.

When David Cameron first announced the plans he said:

"Consultations, impact assessments, audits, reviews, stakeholder management, securing professional buy-in, complying with EU procurement rules, assessing sector feedback…this is not how we became one of the most powerful, prosperous nations on earth. It's not how you get things done. When you have lobby groups lined up to criticise every action you take; parliamentary select committees ready to jump on every bump in the road; then the rational choice is to be cautious – even over-cautious. But for the sake of our country's progress we have got to cut through this."

This is the Shanghai effect. Ministers go to China, they see an extraordinary level of change and development, proceeding at a pace they can only dream of. It's a skyline that seems to change in real time, as you stare at it. Then they return to the UK, where the debate over high speed rail or a new runway drags on for years, and they dream Chinese dreams of scale and efficiency.

But democracy is not efficient. If one wants true efficiency, one quickly gives up on freedom, hence the fascist insistence that they can get the trains running on time. The drive to get rid of checks and balances is a fundamentally authoritarian instinct.

A coalition which came to power on a civil liberties ticket is now dismantling one of the most powerful weapons citizens have to hold power to account. It is a boring term, more suited to geeks than protestors. But we should not stare down at our plates. Once judicial review goes, we'll never get it back.

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