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Home Office rejects Human Rights Committee's call for a time limit to immigration detention

31 July 2019

The Home Office has rejected the UK Parliament Human Rights Committee's recommendation to introduce a time limit on immigration detention,  despite the overwhelming cross-party support.

Government Responses

Today the UK Parliament Human Rights Committee publishes (see above) two responses from the government to its reports on Immigration detention and Good Character Requirements: Draft British Nationality Act 1981 (Remedial) Order 2019

  1. Immigration detention: time limit proposal rejected

The Committee's original report called for a 28 day time limit on immigration detention. It said:

“Indefinite detention causes distress and anxiety and can trigger mental illness and exacerbate mental health conditions where they already exist.

Moreover, the lack of a time limit on immigration detention reduces the incentive for the Home Office to progress cases promptly which would reduce both the impact on detainees, and detention costs.”

The Home Office has wholly rejected the Committee's central proposal that a limit be introduced.

The Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman responded:

"Home Office immigration detention is arbitrary, unfair and breaches human rights.  Repeated detention and release, which characterises the system, shows that it must be reformed.

Parliament will have the opportunity to consider changing the law to protect people from arbitrary detention when the Immigration Bill is brought back. 

I'm hopeful that with the strong cross party backing for the proposals from our committee and the Home Affairs Committee it will do so."

2.   Good character test: no explanation given 

The Remedial Order has now been approved by Parliament, and was welcomed by the Committee. It has removed some discrimination from the British Nationality Act,  but as the Committee reported, other human rights concerns remain with the law as it stands.

In the original report, the Committee was particularly concerned that there was a good character requirement for children who had a right to to British nationality on application and who had been born and grown up in the UK, and said:

“the Home Office has again been unable to explain or justify why the good character test is applied to children who have grown up all their lives in the UK and know no other country.

We are concerned that this policy is preventing children whose only real connection is with the UK from becoming British—contrary to the intention behind the “entitlement” route to British citizenship for children who have grown up in the UK.

In particular, we are most concerned that this is affecting children as young as ten years old who have lived all of their lives in the UK.

The Government should review the application of the good character test to children with a right to British citizenship who have grown up in the UK, in particular, carefully reflecting its obligation to consider the best interests of the child when considering the impact on children with such a close connection to the UK." 

In its response the Government says that “When assessing good character, there is no distinction between those who have grown up in Britain and those who arrive when they are older” and maintained its position that the  “the good character requirement should apply to all those above the age of criminal responsibility (10 years old).”

The Committee's report noted: 

“In the Parliamentary debates on extending the good character requirement to children who were entitled to be British, much was made by Government Ministers of “heinous crimes” of the most serious type—indeed the parliamentary debates focused only on those “heinous crimes”.

[…]. However, the good character test applies also to cautions, minor offences and a whole host of activity (including non-criminal activity such as financial soundness, notoriety and immigration related issues)—it is not only focussed on the most serious crimes.

Indeed, half of the children denied their “entitlement” (i.e. right) to British nationality on good character grounds have not even received a criminal conviction (having merely received a police caution)—let alone been prosecuted for “heinous crimes””.

Harriet Harman MP said:

"The Home Office has made some welcome concessions in response to our report, but it is unacceptable that children who are born in the UK and grow up here their whole lives, being British to all who would meet them, are considered by the Home Office to be on a par with those moving to the UK well into adult-hood and without those strong cultural and identity links with the UK."

Further information

Image: PA