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Home Affairs Committee inquiry finds serious problems in every part of the immigration detention system


Major new report criticises Home Office's "shockingly cavalier" approach to immigration detention

Date of Publication:
21 March 2019

Home Affairs Committee inquiry finds serious problems in every part of the immigration detention system

21 March 2019

In an important new report published today, Parliament's Home Affairs Committee has found that the Home Office has "utterly failed" in its approach to immigration detention and has shown a "shockingly cavalier" attitude.

You can read the full 108-page report here.

The Committee undertook an inquiry into immigration detention in the wake of the BBC's 2017 exposure of physical and verbal abuse of detainees by some staff at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre (IRC).

The Home Affairs Committee said in today's report: "Over the course of our inquiry, we have found serious problems with almost every element of the immigration detention system. People are being wrongfully detained, held in immigration detention when they are vulnerable and detained for too long."

Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said the Home Office approach to immigration detention is "careless and cavalier", and included casework failures, insufficient judicial safeguards, and a general lack of humanity in the system.

The report states: "Our inquiry identified a weak administrative process and a serious lack of judicial oversight of the decision to detain. Decisions to hold an individual in immigration detention are taken by Home Office officials and not by a Judge or court, and immigration detention is overseen by the Immigration Enforcement directorate in the Home Office. In this process, there is no thorough pre-detention screening of individuals and other than in asylum interviews there is no face to face contact between immigration decision-makers and the detainee. As a result, in the immigration system, people can be deprived of their liberty through an entirely paper-based exercise by officials where no one involved in the decision ever interviews the potential detainee. Moreover, there is no requirement in UK law for those decisions to be subject to judicial oversight within a certain period after a detention order is made. This has to change. In the UK, there is no limit on the length of time for which someone can be held in immigration detention."

Yvette Cooper said reform is urgently needed to ensure the immigration detention system is fair, works sensibly, is transparent and humane.

The key recommendations made by the Home Affairs Committee in the report are as follows:

• Stronger judicial oversight by subjecting the initial detention decision to review by a Judge within 72 hours. This would be in line with other areas of UK law, for example in the UK criminal justice system, where an upper limit for detention without charge exists.

• Requiring caseworkers involved in the decision to detain an individual in all cases to meet that individual at least once, in person, prior to finalising the detention decision or/and within one week of their detention.

• Introducing a thorough, face-to-face pre-detention screening process to facilitate the disclosure of vulnerability.

• Abolishing the three AAR levels of risk and reverting to the previous policy of a presumption not to detain individuals except in very exceptional circumstances. The Home Office should consult with a wide range of stakeholders who are affected by detention including people with lived experience, to develop an agreed grouping of categories of vulnerability.

• Bringing an end to indefinite immigration detention and implementing a maximum 28-day time limit. This time limit should be cumulative and accompanied by a robust series of regular checks and safeguards. Any extension should only be made in exceptional circumstances and with prior judicial approval.

• Urging the Government to undertake a consultation on how detention time limit maximums could be applied to different types of detainees, such as vulnerable individuals. The Home Office should also consult on the application of the time limit to Foreign National Offenders (FNOs), including assessment of specific public protection issues.

• Ensuring all IRCs have robust and effective whistleblowing procedures which IRC staff and detainees can use with complete confidence, knowing they will be fully protected.

Sonya Sceats, Chief Executive of Freedom from Torture, said the report was a "damning indictment of a failing and punitive immigration detention system which places an impossible burden on people at risk".

In response to the report, the Home Office denied that it detained people indefinitely.

A spokesman told BBC News: "Most people detained under immigration powers spend only short periods in detention. We are looking closely at the issue of time limits to understand how we can have a detention system that is fair to those who may be detained, upholds our immigration policies, and acts as a deterrent to those who might seek to frustrate those policies."

The Home Office also published a fact sheet on immigration detention here.