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'Cavalier' Home Office failing in its responsibility for immigration detention

21 March 2019

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.

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.

Improved oversight

  • 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.

Improved safeguarding

  • 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.

Chair's comments

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.”

Further information

Image: PA