Following the legal challenge launched by Women for Refugee Women last year, on the lack of access to in-person legal advice for women locked up in Derwentside detention centre in County Durham, it has been announced that all legal advice surgeries in immigration detention must now take place face-to-face.

This change came into force on Monday 3rd April 2023, and marks an important and welcome recognition of the inadequacies of legal advice delivered by telephone or videocall in detention centres. We are extremely pleased that individuals who are detained will be able to receive face-to-face legal advice and meaningful access to justice. 

We launched our legal challenge in February 2022, shortly after Derwentside opened, and were represented by Toufique Hossain, Shalini Patel and Emma Dawson of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, who instructed Alex Goodman and Miranda Butler of Landmark Chambers. SPM, a woman who was detained in Derwentside last year and struggled to access legal advice while there, was our co-claimant in the challenge. She is represented by Lily Parrott of Duncan Lewis Solicitors.

Following a two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in June 2022, our case was unfortunately not upheld. Just prior to this hearing, however, the Home Office announced it had secured in-person legal advice for Derwentside, to begin from July 2022. 

Recent figures indicate the majority of appointments taking place under the Detained Duty Advice Scheme (legal advice surgeries in detention) at Derwentside are now happening in person. Although half of legal advice appointments outside the Detained Duty Advice Scheme at Derwentside are still happening remotely, we hope this will improve soon.  

The importance of access to in-person legal advice also now appears to have been formally recognised by the Home Office and Legal Aid Agency, with the announcement that from 3rd April all legal advice surgeries in all immigration detention centres must take place face-to-face.

Women for Refugee Women will continue to fight for Derwentside to be shut down, and for an end to all immigration detention. While anyone continues to be locked up in detention, however, access to face-to-face legal advice is essential to ensuring people’s cases are given a fair hearing and to allow meaningful access to justice.

Alphonsine Kabagabo, Director of Women for Refugee Women, said: 

This about-turn by the Government on the issue of face-to-face legal advice shows that campaigning works. As the so-called ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ progresses through Parliament, we should take strength from this success and remember it is possible to stop the injustices and harms the Government wants to inflict. Love and compassion will always win over racism, callousness and cruelty.


Shalini Patel, Public Law Solicitor at Duncan Lewis, said:

This is a great win for the many women detained at Derwentside IRC. All along we have argued the importance and necessity for these vulnerable women to have access to face-to-face legal visits. The Home Office has essentially conceded, albeit this could have been avoided. There are potentially many women who did not have access to the legal advice they should have been entitled to and their cases may have been impacted by this. 

Recent figures indicate that the majority of Detained Duty Advice Scheme appointments at Derwentside are now taking place in person. We hope this is the first step to ensuring all legal advice appointments, including those outside of the Detained Duty Advice Scheme, happen face-to-face.


We know that campaigning works. The ‘Illegal Migration Bill’, which is currently going through Parliament, will prevent people fleeing persecution who arrive in the UK by ‘irregular’ means (such as small boat) from claiming asylum here. Instead they will be locked up in detention indefinitely, while the Government attempts to remove them to their country of origin or a so-called ‘safe third country’, such as Rwanda.

Women for Refugee Women is particularly concerned about proposals in the Bill to disapply the 72-hour time limit on pregnant women’s detention, introduced in 2016, and detain pregnant women who arrive ‘irregularly’ in the UK indefinitely.

Please contact your MP to ask them to speak out against these proposals by clicking here.

Although our challenge to the lack of in-person legal advice at Derwentside was not upheld by the High Court, SPM, our co-claimant, was granted permission to appeal by the Court of Appeal, on Ground 1, which focuses on access to justice. The appeal hearing is listed for May 2023.