IT was my absolute pleasure to chair the judging panel for The Herald’s Law Awards of Scotland this year. The entries we received were outstanding and the list of winners was inspiring. The event, which was held in Glasgow last week, showcased the very best of our country’s legal profession.

If I had to pick one stand-out moment, though, it would have to be presenting the Judges’ Award to Glasgow Social Justice Lawyers, a collective made up of law firm Latta & Co, the legal arm of housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland and law centres JustRight Scotland, Govan Law Centre and Legal Services Agency. They were recognised for the work they did to prevent services company Serco from evicting over 300 asylum seekers from their Glasgow homes.

The situation had arisen after the Home Office refused those people’s asylum applications and, with no more government funding coming its way, Serco decided to throw them out onto the streets. Glasgow Social Justice Lawyers pooled their expertise and, while Govan Law Centre took action to try to prove the company’s methods were wrong, secured scores of court orders that earned those vulnerable people a temporary reprieve. Unsurprisingly, they received a standing ovation at the event.

Their work is far from over, though, with Serco stating publicly that it plans to press ahead with its so-called lock-change evictions after the Court of Session last month ruled it was entirely lawful for it to do so. Serco is not a public body, you see, so the terms of the Human Rights Act, which prevents government bodies from evicting people in such a way, don’t apply.

Latta & Co has again had some success in trying to prevent that. The day after the Law Awards it secured a Sheriff Appeal Court decision saying Serco cannot evict one of its clients until it is clear whether the Govan Law Centre case can be appealed to the UK Supreme Court. That means that one person is safe until January 16. The hope is the decision will have a bearing on any other evictions Serco tries to take forward in the meantime.

Despite these small victories, legally, Serco looks to be on solid ground. The court has, after all, found that it acted lawfully in attempting to evict people from their homes. And, with the Home Office cutting off all funding once asylum seekers have been classified as “failed”, it is understandable that the company, which saw its profits rise from £69 million to £93m last year, would not want to meet the cost of housing them itself.

Morally, it appears bankrupt though, with its chief operating officer Julia Rogers showing very little compassion when she announced that the Court of Session ruling meant it could “press ahead” with making 20 people a week street homeless. Noting that Serco has been providing free accommodation and utilities to “people whose asylum claims have failed”, Ms Rogers said “the fact that we have spent millions of pounds supporting people who no longer have a right to remain in the UK and providing them with free accommodation has been widely ignored”.

Only it hasn’t, because the company has made it clear on numerous occasions that it was chasing the evictions because it was receiving no money for the people affected, with the pursuit of profit seemingly its sole motivating factor. Anyone in any doubt of that need look no further than Serco’s own financial statements, which for the period covering the first six months of this year acknowledge that the company has been knocked off the Scottish asylum contract (it was replaced by Mears Group for all but the disputed lock-change homes in September), but say that’s okay because it landed a much better deal instead.

“In the UK, we won our largest ever contract, being £1.9bn over 10 years for providing asylum accommodation and support services,” the results announcement states, adding that these contracts are “particularly significant”. “We did not retain the Scotland and Northern Ireland region, but gained the much larger Midlands and East of England region, whilst retaining our “home” region of the North West; as a consequence, we will now be the largest provider of asylum seeker accommodation in the UK. Given our past experience, we also bid the regions at prices which we believe should allow us to make a fair return.”

Whether any return made while capitalising on the misery of others can ever be described as fair is a matter for debate, but it would be remiss not to note that Serco is a business not a charity; keeping shareholders happy will always come before showing a bit of humanity to a bunch of failed asylum seekers. But if you think that’s fair dos, try thinking on this: in the 18 months since Serco started its eviction process, over 100 of the people affected have had their asylum status overturned, meaning they not only have the right to remain here but that Serco can wave them on to settled refugee accommodation too. Just think of the difference the company could have made if, rather than spending money pursuing hostile-environment evictions and defending expensive court proceedings, it had invested a little in helping vulnerable tenants navigate the immigration process or lobbying government to take a less draconian approach.

Its chief executive Rupert Soames, who this year will earn between £1.1m and £4.3m depending on how the business performs, does, after all, know a thing or two about government. Sure, his brother Sir Nicholas Soames, who had the Conservative whip temporarily withdrawn from him earlier this year, is no longer a member of parliament, but it is hard to imagine that the grandson of Sir Winston Churchill would not know how to lobby of his own accord. That his company has chosen to solve its asylum-contract issues by punching downwards and not up speaks volumes about the kind of corporate social responsibility it wants to be known for.

Indeed, in its Corporate Responsibility Report for 2018 Serco makes just one mention of asylum seekers, highlighting the progress it has made when it comes to immigration. “We have helped to protect borders and manage immigration through the provision of border control, detention centre and asylum seeker housing and welfare services,” it claims. It looks like a refresher course in what CSR actually means would not go amiss. Who knows, the company might even benefit from it. Its shareholders would surely be happy with that.