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Room to Heal’s perspective on the latest Home Office policy regarding Torture Survivors – 9 December 2016

Advocacy 9 December 2016

In September 2016 the Home Office introduced a new, narrower definition of torture. Whereas previously the definition had included torture inflicted by any individual or group[1], the new definition was restricted to violence perpetrated by official state actors.

In a High Court hearing in October 2016 this policy was challenged in court by Human Rights lawyers who argued the unreasonably strict definition had resulted in the illegal detention of hundreds of asylum seekers who were unable to prove that the torture they experienced was sanctioned by state actors.

Many of Room to Heal’s members, themselves torture survivors, have been detained during their asylum process. Frequently we find these experiences cause a significant harm, reawakening and exacerbating traumatic experiences of past torture and incarceration. As one member recently said to us:

“I expected help when I came here but I got the opposite. In the six months I was in detention I saw horrible things. Detention is a hidden underground that makes you feel invisible. It’s a torture that no one in the world would know unless you’d experienced it.  Detention is the UKBA underbelly. No one will ever know the things I’ve seen.”

After the initial hearing last month, high court judge Lord Justice Ouseley ordered a review of the Home Office policy and a full hearing is scheduled for March 2017. In the interim period the older more inclusive definition of torture will be re-adopted. This challenge could result in hundreds of torture survivors being released from detention.

Room to Heal advocates the use of the older definition of torture as a safeguard for the human rights of vulnerable survivors. We see first-hand and all-too-often the damage done through the wrongful detention of people who have survived unimaginable cruelty.

[1] Taylor, Diane “Home Office ordered to review policy on torture survivors”, The Guardian, 21 November 2016. Available at:

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