Coronavirus ‘shutting down’ Windrush justice system – says lawyer to scandal victims

Anna Cooban
March 26 2020, 19.25

A solicitor representing victims of the Windrush scandal is concerned her clients will have to wait longer for justice as the coronavirus emergency brings government processes to a halt.

Immigration lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie worries many of her clients are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus, including many homeless and elderly Windrush victims who have underlying health issues.

She said: “With no staff, things aren’t being processed. The whole system is being shut down.

“Payments made to victims through the Home Office’s Vulnerable Persons team will slow down.”

Former long-time Croydon resident Roy Harrison, one of Ms McKenzie’s clients, is still living in a bin shed in Lambeth four months after his plight was first revealed by The Guardian.

Ms McKenzie said: “Roy’s back on the street.

“He’s got a deportation order in place. He has to get the deportation order revoked in order to apply for his status.”

This indefinite pause on justice comes after Wendy Williams, an inspector of constabulary, released her long anticipated Windrush Lessons Learned Review last week, castigating the department for its ‘institutional ignorance’.

Asked about the review, Ms McKenzie said it was ‘hard hitting’.

The 276–page review was commissioned by former Home Secretary Sajid Javid in 2018 to understand how more than 160 British citizens of Afro-Caribbean descent – those the government invited to settle in Britain between 1948 and 1973 – had been wrongfully deported and detained under the department’s ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy.

“These failings demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation,” wrote Ms Williams.

“Both policy makers and operational staff lost sight of the people the department had a duty to protect.”

The review laid out 30 recommendations, including instituting a learning and development programme for Home Office staff on the history of black Britons and the UK’s colonial history.  

A statement by victim-led organisation Windrush Action said: “There is no doubt in our minds that racism is pervasive and a major contributory factor of the Windrush scandal.

“The report is a damning and shocking indictment of a department once described as not fit for purpose and too of ministers and subsequent governments. They all failed the Windrush generation, wittingly.”

Arthur Torrington CBE, director and co-founder of the Windrush Foundation, found the report substantial but questioned some of its restraint.

“What you found in the report was institutional ignorance. In other parts of the report it did say that Home Office did some things deliberately so that’s a bit of a contradiction,” he said.

Mr Torrington said he hopes this injustice will lead to better cultural and historical training within the Home Office.

“I hope the government has training to help with the understanding of people who have come from the Caribbean,” he added.

“Those who came from the Caribbean are as British as anyone else in this country.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said in an oral statement last Thursday: “I will review the recommendations Wendy Williams makes in relation to the way the Home Office operates as an organisation.

“I will continue to look closely at its leadership, culture, practices and the way it views the communities it serves.”

For now, victims like Mr Harrison must wait to hear the outcome of their legal cases, the current health crisis only adding to their uncertainty.

Featured image shows the Home Office’s headquarters in Pimlico.

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