Authors:Anna Steiner and Catherine Evans
Last updated:2023-09-25
Windrush scandal: continuing the fight for justice
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Windrush Justice Clinic logo
Home Office minister Lord Murray showed up, listened to a few harrowing accounts of ongoing injustice, read out two years’ worth of press releases, then SCARPERED, as fast as his feet would take him (Windrush Lives tweet describing the government response to an event held in parliament on the Windrush scandal on 16 May 2023).
As we mark the 75th anniversary of the ship HMT Empire Windrush arriving at Tilbury docks on 22 June 1948, concerns continue to be voiced by Windrush scandal survivors, lawyers and human rights organisations, among others, over the effectiveness of the Home Office’s Windrush Compensation Scheme and the government’s disdain for survivors.
The Windrush Justice Clinic (WJC) recently contributed to research by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which found that the Windrush Compensation Scheme is failing and violating the rights of those affected by the scandal to an effective remedy for the human rights abuses they suffered (‘UK: “Hostile” compensation scheme fails “Windrush” victims’, HRW news release, 17 April 2023). HRW made several recommendations to government including the removal of the scheme from the Home Office and the availability of legal aid to all eligible claimants. Other recommendations include the right of appeal to an independent tribunal, the lowering of the burden of proof for claims and full compensation for impact on life, regardless of the complexity.
The removal of the Windrush Compensation Scheme to an independent organisation is something that campaigners and survivors have called for, and it is encouraging to see the Labour party state in its draft manifesto that: ‘If the Conservative Home Office continues to fail the Windrush generation, the next Labour government will be willing to overhaul the Windrush Compensation Scheme and put it outside of Home Office control’ (Tom Belger, Morgan Jones and Katie Neame, ‘Revealed: full draft policy platform that could form 2024 Labour manifesto’, LabourList, 11 May 2023).
The provision of legal aid to all eligible claimants has been recommended by previous papers, including WJC’s The Windrush Compensation Scheme: unmet need for legal advice (L Lewis, H Smith and A Steiner, University of Westminster, 25 March 2022). This would go some way towards protecting claimants from re-traumatisation by the scheme itself, help to limit arbitrary decision-making and speed up the process. Southwark Law Centre, a WJC member, recently applied for permission to judicially review the decision by the Legal Aid Agency to refuse exceptional case funding for all Windrush compensation claimants and their close family members.
People’s tribunal on the Windrush scandal
The WJC is considering coordinating a people’s tribunal to hold the government to account for the Windrush scandal and the compensation scheme. People’s tribunals are a type of grassroots justice organised by civil society and take the form of an opinion tribunal. The idea arose from the 1966 Russell Tribunal, which held the US government responsible for war crimes in Vietnam. Their objective is usually to hold states answerable for human rights breaches by shining a light on abuses and creating an archive of violations.
People’s tribunals are often convened to confront impunity and the refusal of officials to listen to the survivors harmed by the state. Their potency stems from collating, under public scrutiny, the experience and knowledge of the participants, including survivors, community activists and experts.
The Windrush scandal was a human rights violation perpetrated by the UK government on its own citizens. When the scandal was first uncovered in the media, it received extensive coverage, but many people are now wrongly under the impression that the government has rectified the violations and compensated survivors. In fact, it appears wilful in its refusal to listen to survivors or provide reparations.
A tribunal would put the testimonies of survivors at the heart of the process, creating a public record of their experiences, and will be combined with the input of community activists and researchers. We hope it would contribute to the campaign for survivors, starting with an improved compensation scheme.