Reaction to the High Court’s refusal of a JR for the use of the Bibby Stockholm

Reaction to the High Court’s refusal of a JR for the use of the Bibby Stockholm

Mr Justice Holgate has refused an application for a judicial review of the decision to use the Bibby Stockholm barge to contain asylum-seekers at Portland Port.

The judgment follows a permission hearing in the Royal Courts of Justice on 10 October 2023. The claimant was Portland resident Carralyn Parkes, the town’s mayor (although she was acting in her personal capacity).

In court, it was often difficult to make out what was being said – the microphones didn’t seem to be very effective, the judge often spoke quietly, and of course the barristers had their backs to us because they were facing the judge.

Nevertheless, what was clear was that all parties agreed on the complexities and novelties of the case. Attention was paid to the fact that the Home Office is likely to attempt to use more barges in future.

What was the claim really about?

Essentially, this was about trying to ensure that:

  • the government abides by planning law, when it applies (and this was to find out if it applies)
  • communities can have their say, via the planning framework, when it comes to developments in their area
  • the Home Office gives due consideration to the rights of asylum-seekers when deciding how and where to accommodate them
  • the government is held accountable for its decisions.

How significant is the judgment?

It’s important to recognise that the Bibby Stockholm hasn’t been ruled as lawful or unlawful. This was just the result of one claim, specifically:

  • a claim on planning grounds only – claims on other grounds could and probably will be brought in future
  • a claim against the Home Office only – new claims could be brought against other defendants
  • the decision of one judge only – which could potentially be appealed.

Furthermore, this was ‘only’ a legal decision. Whilst that’s very important, legality is not the whole basis of the campaign against the barge. Many, many people believe that the use of the Bibby Stockholm to contain asylum-seekers is morally and ethically abhorrent – for both asylum-seekers and communities. Therefore, the fight goes on!

How might we feel about the judgment?

It’s disappointing, of course. No one loses and then rejoices! However, it’s important to be pragmatic. The key thing is that the claim was brought at all:

  • It’s still possible for ‘ordinary’ members of the public to hold the government to account – which they can do in a range of ways including judicial review (although the government would like to curb judicial reviews). The Aarhus Convention, which allows the costs of such claims to be capped, is a big factor in helping make this possible – otherwise, the legal costs would be beyond the reach of the public.
  • There are all kinds of ways in which people protest asylum accommodation centres in their area. Unfortunately, that can include violence, as we saw at Knowsley, and it can be unpleasantly racist, as we have seen at Llanelli and indeed Portland. Personally, I believe it’s far more powerful and effective to have the discipline to engage with formal democratic processes.
  • It takes courage, effort, time and resilience to bring a claim against the government. Who ever imagines that they will one day take the Home Office to court? In a world where so many people are armchair warriors hiding behind pseudonyms, it is unusual but crucial for an individual to stand up and demand to be heard on behalf of the public.

What are the next steps?

  • Campaign-wise – nothing changes. Many of us believe that the Bibby Stockholm is a terrible plan and we will continue to fight it on every front.
  • Legally – the team will be announcing their plans in due course.