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Council of Europe anti-torture committee publishes report on immigration detention facilities following visit to UK


Concerns raised over lack of time limit to immigration detention and continued detention of vulnerable people

Date of Publication:

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has today published the report on its ad hoc visit to the UK to examine immigration detention facilities.

CoE logoYou can download the 32-page report here.

A delegation from the Council of Europe's CPT visited the UK in March and April 2023. Visits were made to Brook House immigration removal centre (IRC), Colnbrook IRC, Colnbrook short-term holding facility (STHF), Derwentside IRC and Harmondsworth IRC. Visits were also undertaken to Pentonville and Wormwood Scrubs prisons to examine the situation of persons held under immigration legislation.

Overall, the report is positive about the excellent cooperation from UK authorities during the visit and the many good practices being promoted in the immigration centres visited to render the period of detention the least traumatic possible.

Concerns are raised, however, over a number of issues, including the lack of a time limit to immigration detention in the UK, the continued detention of vulnerable persons, and the inappropriate prison-like nature of some facilities, such as Brook House and Colnbrook IRCs.

Regarding the open-ended nature of immigration detention in the UK, the report says: "The very fact that there is no maximum period of detention and that persons may be held for several years is a trigger for becoming mentally unwell regardless of the fact that the vast majority of persons spend fewer than 28 days in detention. Further, one man from Somalia met by the delegation had been held in Colnbrook IRC since 22 October 2019 following a failed deportation attempt by plane to Turkey. The CPT cannot see how a person's protracted detention under immigration legislation can continue to be justified under the criteria set out above when there is no prospect of the person being returned. It considers that a defined time limit for detention should be introduced."

The CPT reiterates its recommendation that the UK should introduce a time limit for detention under immigration legislation. It also reminds UK authorities that the principle of cooperation means decisive action should be taken to improve the situation in light of the CPT's recommendations.

The UK has so far failed to positively address the CPT's recommendation on a time limit, with the report noting: "[T]he CPT considers that insufficient action has been taken to address the longstanding recommendations pertaining to the indefinite time period by which persons may be held in immigration detention and the continued policy of holding persons in prison under immigration legislation after they have completed their prison sentence as opposed to transferring them to an immigration detention centre. The CPT trusts that the United Kingdom authorities will take concrete measures to address the recommendations in this report."

The CPT report finds that more needs to be done to ensure that the Rule 35 process of the Detention Centre Rules 2001 and the Home Office's Adults at Risk policy operate effectively so that vulnerable persons are not held in immigration detention.

The Rule 35 mechanism is still not operating effectively, the CPT says, and too many Rule 35 applications are not being properly completed.

Figures on how many persons have been released following a Rule 35 application are lacking. The report notes: "The delegation was also struck by the fact that once a detained person was granted bail the Rule 35 submission was dropped even if the person might thereafter continue to be detained for several months. For example, at Brook House it was noted that in the first three months of 2023, there were 55 Rule 35 submissions which resulted in 21 persons being approved for release. However, in four of these cases, the persons were still in detention at the time of the delegation's visit in early April 2023. For one these persons, the Rule 35 decision on release had been issued on 5 January 2023. Effectively, once bail is granted the Rule 35 submissions and decisions are considered redundant. Moreover, it means that the official statistics on the number of persons released due to a Rule 35 submission cannot be considered accurate. More importantly, it means the continued detention of persons who have been found to be unfit for detention under the Rule 35 process. In this context, the delegation also noted that several of the persons with successful Rule 35 applications came from countries where there appeared to be no possibility of return in the immediate future such as Afghanistan, Eritrea and Somalia."

Concerns are raised by the CPT over the use of prisons to hold people under immigration legislation.

The CPT stated: "Prison is not designed for administrative detention and is not able to provide the appropriate services that detained persons under immigration legislation should receive. The delegation found that the administratively detained persons met in prison were at a clear disadvantage in terms of being able to exercise their rights to legal aid, contact with the outside world, out-of-cell time, access to activities and fresh air. For some persons detained under immigration legislation, being held for prolonged periods in prison, locked up 23 hours a day in their cells in poor conditions with little prospect of removal could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment."

During its visit to the UK, the CPT delegation noted that the Illegal Migration Bill was being introduced against a backdrop of political rhetoric about clamping down on people arriving by small boats across the English Channel.

The CPT says the Bill (now the Illegal Migration Act 2023) erodes basic safeguards that protect persons from being potentially subjected to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

"It is the duty of the CPT as a preventive body to alert governments to issues where it considers that an issue under Article 3 of the ECHR may arise. In this respect, the Illegal Migration Bill 2023 and the Agreement with Rwanda both raise multiple concerns over the treatment of vulnerable persons and the removal of foreign nationals to a country where they may be exposed to treatment contrary to Article 3 of the [European Convention on Human Rights]," the report adds.

With direct reference to the Rwanda policy, the CPT recommends that the UK ensures all foreign nationals arriving in the UK have a right to apply for asylum in the UK and have their case processed in line with international refugee and human rights law before any attempts are made to return them to their country of origin or to a safe third country.

The CPT also says: "[I]t is … incumbent on members of the UK Government not to use inflammatory and derogatory language when referring to foreign nationals arriving in the UK after undertaking a hazardous journey. Promoting a hostile environment towards these groups of foreign nationals is more likely to negatively impact their treatment generally and, more specifically, if they are deprived of their liberty."

In response to the report, the UK Government published a 17-page document here, which takes issue with the CPT's findings. It states: "The UK government does not recognise much of the content of this report and feels it does not accurately reflect the important work we undertake to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those in our care."