Major reforms needed
The report proposes major reforms to immigration detention decision-making, including better access to legal advice, more protection for the vulnerable and improved detention conditions.
They said that more needed to be done to make detention estates “less like prisons” recommending that there should be an end to the distressing nature of indefinite detention and that decisions to detain need to be made independently from the Home Office.
Five proposals to reform the immigration detention system
- The decision to detain should not be made by the Home Office but should be made independently.
- Introduce a 28 day time limit to end the trauma of indefinite detention.
- Detainees should have better and more consistent access to legal aid to challenge their detention.
- More needs to be done identify vulnerable individuals and treat them appropriately.
- The Home Office should improve the oversight and assurance mechanism in the immigration detention estate to ensure that any ill-treatment of abuse is found out immediately and action is taken. Concerns over the distressing effect of indeterminate detention
Former detainees associated detention with ‘mental torture’
Former detainees who gave evidence to the Committee described the indeterminate nature of detention and uncertainty associated with it as “mental torture.”
The monitoring bodies, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) and the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) expressed serious concerns about open-ended nature of detention and the impact this had on individuals.
HMIP told us that it regularly finds individuals held in detention for extended periods of time, giving the examples of an individual who was detained at Harmondsworth IRC for more than four and half years, and another at Yarl’s Wood for three years.
Both monitoring bodies said that when speaking to detainees during inspections or visits, the indeterminate nature of immigration detention is a key cause of distress and anxiety.
Harriet Harman MP, Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said:
“If a person is suspected of a crime, they cannot be detained by the Government; they can be detained only by the police, who are independent of Government.
If the police want to continue to detain a person beyond 36 hours, they have to bring that person before a court, which is, of course, totally independent of Government.
But if the Home Office suspects a person of being in breach of our immigration laws, there is a complete absence of independence in the decision making.
A civil servant—nameless, faceless and behind closed doors—just ticks a box to detain them.
The first that person will know about it is when someone bangs on their door in the early hours of the morning to bundle them into an immigration enforcement van and take them to a detention centre.
With no independence in the decision making, and with no scrutiny or accountability, mistakes are inevitable.
Those we get to hear about are probably only the tip of the iceberg, but we do know that £21 million was paid out by the Home Office in just five years to compensate for wrongful detention, and terrible mistakes are certainly what happened in the Windrush cases.
It is routinely said those people were unable to prove their residence here, which is not the case for the detainees we saw.
We looked at their Home Office files, which the Home Secretary was good enough to release to them, and it was not that there was no evidence of their residence here. There was masses of it, including records of national insurance contributions going back to the 1970s.
If there had been any independence in the decision making, these people would never have been detained, yet they were detained not once but twice.
The papers in their files were ignored, and the pleas of their families were swept aside.
After the right to life, the right not to be unlawfully detained is one of the most important human rights.
It should not be the case that a person has fewer protections from wrongful detention as an immigrant than they would if they had actually committed a crime.
We should ensure that, in future, no one is detained unless the decision is taken independently.
The Home Office should make its case, but someone independent must take the decision if a person is to be deprived of their liberty.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights will table an amendment to that effect, and we hope the Government will agree to it.”
Wide range of evidence considered in inquiry
The Committee took a wide range of evidence from:
- former detainees
- the Home Office Minister Caroline Noakes MP and officials
- Independent Monitoring Boards
- HM Inspectorate of Prisons
- the Care Quality Commission
- the Law Society
- groups such as Detention Action, Liberty, Amnesty International, Mind, Freed Voices, INQUEST and Stonewall amongst others.