For the first time ever, we’re taking the Home Office to court.

A judge has reviewed our case against a new detention centre for women and has granted us permission to move to the next stage. We now have a two-day hearing at the end of June. 

But we need your help to ensure we can cover our court costs and legal fees – chip in here! 

We have been campaigning tirelessly against the opening of the new detention centre for women, Derwentside (formerly known as Hassockfield), for over a year.  

Despite the wealth of evidence on the lasting damage that locking people up in detention inflicts, of which the Home Office is well aware, the Government continued with their plans to open Derwentside in County Durham in December 2021. 

The Government chose to lock up women at Derwentside without provision for them to access in-person legal advice, which has severely damaging consequences for their cases: 

  • The majority of women in detention are survivors of sexual or other gender-based violence. Survivors of such violence experience significant and particular difficulties disclosing what has happened to them. Many women we have spoken to have said they felt too ashamed to talk about their previous experiences 
  • Being denied access to in-person legal advice will exacerbate the difficulties women already face in disclosing these experiences, since they will be expected to talk about what happened to them to someone they have never met, over the phone.
  • Difficulties in disclosing previous experiences can have significant negative consequences for women in detention. It can result in delays in release from detention, their credibility being questioned in asylum and trafficking cases, and inaccurate or incomplete legal advice. 

The reason for this appears to be due to the shortage of legal aid providers operating in the North East of England. 

Following the latest developments in Government policy, such as the recent policies on Rwanda offshoring, the need for proper, in-person, legal advice at Derwentside IRC is more pertinent than ever. It is now clear that women have not been excluded from the Government’s offshoring plans, and that anyone in detention facing removal to Rwanda will only have 7 days to challenge this decision.

Similarly, the case could have implications for the Home Office’s obligations to ensure access to justice in its new asylum reception centres, including in the new site in Linton, where upwards of 500 people will be accommodated.

The Government are harming women and locking them up without access to justice. That’s why, for the first time ever, we are taking them to court. 

Women for Refugee Women is represented by Toufique Hossain, Shalini Patel and Emma Dawson of Duncan Lewis Solicitors, who have instructed Alex Goodman and Miranda Butler of Landmark Chambers. A woman who was previously detained at Derwentside and struggled to access legal advice while there has also issued a legal challenge based on her personal experience.  She is represented by Lily Parrott and Jamie Bell of Duncan Lewis Solicitors. 

The hearing is in June and we need your help to make it happen!  

We need to raise £25,000 to cover our court costs and legal fees.  

Derwentside should have never opened in the first place, and now it’s time to shut it down! 

Agnes Tanoh, Detention Campaign Spokesperson at Women for Refugee Women, who was herself detained at Yarl’s Wood detention centre for over 3 months in 2012, says:

When you come here to seek protection from abuse, exploitation and persecution but instead the Home Office locks you up, you wonder if you are in a good country or in hell. I am still living with the trauma of detention and I don’t want other women to go through this pain. That’s why I’ve been campaigning to stop the Home Office from opening Derwentside. That’s why I’m asking them now to shut it down.

From my own experience I know how important it is to meet your solicitor and build trust so that you can tell them your story. Body language is so important, particularly if there is a language barrier. To see a warm and kind face is like a hug when you need it most. Imagine having to tell a stranger about the most horrific intimate violence you have suffered. How would you feel? It’s not right! Women seeking safety should be able to live freely in their communities and have access to justice.


Alphonsine Kabagabo, director of Women for Refugee Women, says:

For eight years we’ve stood alongside women seeking asylum who have been locked up in detention to call on the Home Office to end this harmful practice. We’ve worked with hundreds of survivors of rape, torture and trafficking to document how detention has retraumatised them. The Home Office hasn’t listened. Instead, they’ve opened a new detention centre for women in an even more remote location and without adequate legal advice provision in place. We can’t stand by and let this harm go on so we are taking the Home Office to court. Women seeking safety in the UK should be supported to rebuild their lives in the community.


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

The Home Secretary’s decision to detain women at Derwentside, despite the issues with access to face-to-face legal advice is extremely concerning. Her own policy recognises that survivors of trafficking and / or gender-based violence may have additional difficulties with self-identifying and disclosing their trauma and yet she has continued with a women’s detention centre, in the knowledge that its location would severely restrict the detainees’ fundamental right to access of justice. At a time when the Home Secretary’s policies are very much at odds with the Rule of Law, it is comforting that we have been granted permission on all grounds and the Court has recognised the importance of the issues before it.


Dr Jo Wilding, author of Droughts and Deserts: A report on the immigration legal aid market andThe Legal Aid Market, who has provided a witness statement in support of the legal challenge, says:

Derwentside is in County Durham, which has no legal aid providers. My research shows that there is already not enough legal aid provision in the surrounding area, with over 5000 asylum applicants accommodated in the North East as of March 2021, and fewer than 2000 legal aid cases opened by all of the legal aid providers in the region in 2020-21. There is clearly no surplus capacity to expand into face-to-face legal advice in the detention centre. That information is available to the Home Secretary as well. There was never any real prospect of getting face to face legal advice if she opened a detention centre for women at Derwentside.


Dr Juliet Cohen, an independent forensic physician who has provided an expert report in support of the legal challenge, says:

I have clinical experience of assessing many women who are survivors of trafficking and gender-based violence. Since the pandemic I have had to make some of these assessments remotely, by telephone or video-link. Their traumatic experiences are often very difficult to disclose, and survivors may have poor mental health as a result of their experiences. Their mental health may become worse by the effect of their being detained, and this deterioration in mental health may then further affect their ability to disclose. I have no doubt that a remote assessment runs the risk of being partial and incomplete.