Home Office's decision to scrap Windrush reforms declared 'unlawful'

High Court says dropping plans for migration commissioner and ICIBI review was indirect discrimination
The Home Office. Photo: Steph Gray/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Jim Dunton

20 Jun 2024

A High Court judge has ruled that the Home Office's decision to scrap two core elements of the government's response to the Windrush scandal was unlawful.

Former police watchdog Wendy Williams made 30 recommendations in her 2020 lessons-learned review on the scandal, which saw members of the Windrush generation denied access to public services and jobs – with some victims wrongly deported from the UK.

Williams' report said the Home Office had displayed “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” on race throughout the scandal. The department accepted all of the recommendations and published a "comprehensive improvement plan" setting out a detailed response.

However in January last year then-home secretary Suella Braverman announced that work on recommendations to run “reconciliation events” for victims, introduce a commissioner responsible for migrants, and review the role and remit of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration would not be proceeded with.

Braverman was sacked as home secretary in November last year. It was the second time she had lost the job in barely more than a year, after being forced to resign from the post in October 2022 during Liz Truss' brief tenure as PM.

Yesterday's Windrush decision follows a judicial review challenge brought by public sector union Unison and campaign group Black Equity Organisation. It found the Home Office's U-turn in relation to the new commissioner and the ICIBI review was wrong in law.

Mrs Justice Heather Williams said the failure to proceed with both measures "amounted to indirect discrimination" and that the Home Office had not shown the policy decisions were "a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim".

The judge said there was evidence Braverman had taken account of the public sector equality duty in deciding not to proceed with reconciliation events. But she found there was no evidence of such consideration in relation to scrapping plans for a migrants commissioner or the ICIBI review.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said Braverman's decision to junk significant elements of the government's Windrush scandal response had been politically motivated and designed to aid the government's proposals to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

"Suella Braverman failed on promises made by her government," McAnea said. "She decided she’d have no truck with anything or anyone that might stand in the way of putting migrants on flights to Rwanda. She cruelly ditched key recommendations that sought to right some of the many Windrush wrongs.

"No government is above the law. Thankfully the then home secretary’s been caught bang to rights. Ministers must treat all people with dignity and respect, and act with integrity."

McAnea said Unison hoped the next government would "act quickly to make amends to this disgraceful chapter in our history".

Kehinde Adeogun, director of legal services and policy at BEO, said the High Court judgment confirmed the need to challenge government decisions where racism and inequity are evident.

"Suella Braverman’s decision to abandon these recommendations was unlawful and the court has substantiated this," she said.

"We are especially pleased that Mrs Justice Williams recognised the discrimination of the Windrush generation in her judgment and referenced the evidence by our witnesses, including the expert report by Frances Webber, former vice chair of the Institute of Race Relations, as to the institutional racism that was at the centre of decisions made by the Home Office and the former home secretary."

A Home Office spokesperson said the government's work to deliver on its Windrush commitments was ongoing.

"We are carefully considering the judgment and will respond in due course," they said.

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