It has emerged during a judicial review brought by the organisations the3million and the Open Rights Group that 60% of the requests for disclosure of data held by the government have been denied since the beginning of 2019 because of a power brought in by the 2018 Data Protection Act.
The 2018 Act brought in an “immigration exemption” that allowed the government to refuse to release personal data, as would normally be required under data protection laws.
These requests for personal data are known as subject access requests, and have been a vital tool for people challenging negative decisions in their immigration, human rights or asylum cases.
Obtaining your file from the Home Office can mean you can see the basis for their (often poorly made) decisions, allowing you to legally challenge them.
Many people are not given the documents they are entitled to from earlier in their legal cases – we meet many people, for example, who didn’t know they should have a copy of their asylum screening interview record, which may be a key document the Home Office use in disputing someone’s asylum claim.
Lawyers warned of the dangers of this exemption before the Data Protection Act was passed, as accessing a client’s file is incredibly important for effective representation, because often only partial information is given for their decisions by the Home Office, people frequently have to change legal representation meaning different documents are held by different lawyers, and asylum and immigration cases are usually very complex and can go on for many years.
As lawyers for the EU citizens’ campaign groups stated, the immigration exemption to the Act creates a “discriminatory, two-tier data protection regime”:
Individuals must have access to their personal data so they know what information is held about them by the Home Office and others, how this information is being processed and shared and to allow them to correct any errors made.
Earlier this month, May Bulman highlighted in the Independent newspaper that the Home Office delay in handing over files to lawyers was leading to people being wrongly detained and even removed/deported.
It seems that the Home Office understand only too well that knowledge is power. With their track-record of woeful decision making, it’s vital that people can hold them to account.
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