The Home Office has shown a shockingly cavalier attitude in its approach to immigration detention and overseen serious failings in almost every area of the immigration detention process, a new report by the Home Affairs Committee has found.
- Read the conclusion and recommendations
- Read the summary
- Read the full report: Immigration detention
The report, published today, finds that the Home Office has utterly failed in its responsibility to oversee the safe and humane detention of individuals in the UK, that too often it does not follow its own policy and guidance, and that a series of safeguarding and case-working failures have led to people being wrongfully detained, held in immigration when they are vulnerable and unnecessarily detained for too long.
The Committee says that the power to detain is a necessary one but maintains that it should be used only if there are no other options, as a last resort prior to removal. It also makes clear that lengthy immigration detention is unnecessary, inhumane and causes harm.
The Committee’s inquiry identified problematic case-working inefficiencies – for example lengthy delays in asylum decisions, appeals and documentation, which unnecessarily prolong individuals’ detention. The inquiry found that Home Office policies which should prevent unlawful detention and harm of vulnerable people are regularly applied in such a way that the most vulnerable detainees, including victims of torture, are not being afforded the necessary protection.
The report finds that the disgraceful abuse of detainees by some staff at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre is sadly not the first of its kind, and the Committee calls upon the Home Office to meet its obligations to the individuals it detains in Immigration Removal Centres, ensuring that safe and humane management, adequate staffing levels, access to high quality healthcare and effective whistleblowing procedures are in place.
In this report, the Committee calls for an end to indefinite detention and a maximum 28-day time limit and says the Home Office must do much more to ensure that detention is an option of last resort. The Committee also calls for an overhaul of the Adults at Risk policy, stronger judicial oversight and a more humane decision-making process for detention to ensure that vulnerable people are not being let down.
The report makes a series of recommendations for fundamental reform, including:
End indefinite detention
- 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.
- Stronger judicial oversight by subjecting the initial detention decision to a 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.
- Urging the Government to undertake a consultation on how immigration 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.
More humane decision making
- 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 effective disclosure of any vulnerability.
- Abolishing the three levels of risk in the Adults at Risk policy 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 immigration detention including people with lived experience, to develop an agreed grouping of categories of vulnerability.
Robust whistleblowing procedures
- Ensuring all Immigration Removal Centres have robust and effective whistleblowing procedures which staff and detainees can use with complete confidence, knowing they will be fully protected.
Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said:
“This inquiry has found serious problems in every part of the immigration detention system.
“Irresponsible failures by the Home Office have led to vulnerable people being wrongly detained, people being held in detention far too long, and serious failings in the operation of individual Immigration Removal Centres.
“Reform is needed urgently to ensure the immigration detention system is fair, works sensibly, is transparent and humane.
“The Home Office approach to immigration detention is careless and cavalier – including casework failures, insufficient judicial safeguards, and a general lack of humanity in the system.
“Making the wrong decision on detention can have a devastating impact on people’s lives – as we saw from the Windrush scandal, but also from many other cases we have seen.
“The lack of any time limit and of proper judicial safeguards has allowed the Home Office to drift and delay, leaving people stuck in detention for months who really shouldn’t be there at all.
“The Committee has warned before of the need for a culture change at the Home Office to ensure that decisions about people’s lives are made rigorously and with care”.
Stuart McDonald MP, member of the Home Affairs Committee, said:
“Over the course of this inquiry we have heard a catalogue of failures in the immigration detention system. Fundamentally, it is unacceptable for people to be held for an indeterminate length of time for immigration purposes, worse still in conditions that are more likely to exacerbate physical and mental health issues. It is also scandalous that some detainees are at risk of violence and verbal abuse in our immigration detention estate and that some are being forced onto the streets because the Home Office is not securing accommodation post release.
“In our report we call for urgent action to provide a system that has detention as an option of last resort, with effective safeguards to protect vulnerable people. The system as it stands has failed. We call on the Government to take immediate steps to make immigration detention decision making more humane and to implement safeguarding processes and policies that are fit for purpose.”
Detention Forum Project Director Eiri Ohtani said:
We are pleased to learn that the Home Affairs Committee has reached the conclusion that there should be a time limit on immigration detention; automatic judicial oversight should take place after 72 hours of detention; vulnerable people should not be detained; and more community-based alternatives should be developed to reduce detention – all the changes we at the Detention Forum believe are crucial steps in overhauling the UK’s mass, routine, indefinite immigration detention.
We particularly welcome the fact that the Committee decided to widen the inquiry’s initial scope from Brook House IRC (which was the subject of a BBC Panorama documentary) to include all aspects of the UK’s immigration detention system. This change of direction was crucial.
People with first hand experience of detention played a key role in drawing the Committee’s attention to the need to examine immigration detention in its entirety – and we commend their work.
Freed Voices cautioned that the exclusive focus on the Brook House missed the point when what was needed was a fundamental to the change to the whole system.
Of course, the Home Office will blame G4S; G4S will blame its staff. But it’s not time for finger-pointing – it’s time for a time limit.
Freed Voices, writing in The Guardian
And the voices coming from the Hunger for Freedom strike by women in Yarl’s Wood IRC ensured that Committee members heard directly from people locked up in detention centres.
The seven women and one man were clear from the outset that uncertainty over how long they would be held “is a killer”. One person said that prison is better because you know how long you will be there. They also described the trauma of detention. “We can’t go anywhere, do anything, we are constantly watched, we can’t access papers we need.”
Stuart McDonald MP, writing for Open Democracy
There is no doubt that these calls from people with direct experience of detention and their direct input into the inquiry made the Committee’s findings robust and meaningful. Any future detention policy making process by the government must involve experts-by-experience at every stage.
The Committee’s demand that the Government produces a comprehensive action plan for its work on alternatives to detention, its success indicators, and an update in response to this report is a timely and necessary one. While we welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement in July 2018 about an alternatives to detention pilot, we are disappointed not to receive any updates. Migrants themselves and a range of civil society organisations must be part of the development of and discussion about alternatives to detention.
Now, the Committee has joined an ever-growing list of parliamentary groups, institutions, organisations and people with lived experience of detention calling for a 28 day time limit on immigration detention. The ball is clearly in the Home Secretary’s court. We believe that the most decent thing for the Home Secretary could do is to take this opportunity and end indefinite detention once and for all – that’s what a true leader would do.