Author: Nick Miller
But with the government in a minority in parliament, and Labour and the SNP already indicating their support for a time limit, the Tory group would likely tip the balance and could force a change to the law within weeks.
“Indefinite detention helps no-one,” said the letter, signed by Conservative MPs including former Brexit secretary David Davis, former attorney-general Dominic Grieve and former business minister Anna Soubry. “The immigration bill currently before parliament provides an opportunity to put this right.”
They plan to support an amendment to a pre-Brexit bill currently being considered by parliament. The bill was designed to end the right of EU citizens to free movement in the UK and set the stage for the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy.
On Thursday evening three Labour MPs tabled an amendment which would apply the 28-day detention limit. Once that limit was reached an immigrant could not be detained again until there had been a “material change of circumstances” that justified their detention.
The government has not ruled out accepting a time limit on detention when the bill comes back for a vote in the House of Commons in March.
A Home Office spokesman said the government was “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”.
Javid had ordered a review of how time limits work in other countries, though the spokesman declined to say whether Australia was among those examined.
But the Home Office spokesman said most people detained under the UK’s immigration powers “spend only short periods in detention”.
In the year ending September 2018, 91 per cent of those detained were either deported or released within four months, and 4 per cent were detained for more than six months. Two-thirds left detention in less than 29 days.
At the end of September 2018 there were 2049 people held in detention. This was 41 per cent less than a year earlier – a result of a change in government policy following the Windrush scandal.
In 2017 four people died in detention while held solely under immigration powers.
Around 95 per cent of people liable for removal from the UK are managed in the community.
Labour MP Harriet Harman said last month the Home Office had paid out £21m ($38m) in the last five years to compensate for wrongful detention.
“You are taken from your home, or your workplace and you have no idea whether you’ll be in the detention centre for a day, a month, or a year,” she said.
Last year a group of law firms and charities supplied data to The Guardian indicating that children were being held in adult detention centres, and more than half of the people in deportation centres were at risk due to being victims of torture, having suicidal thoughts or being unwell.
Detention times ranged up to nearly three years, the survey found.
Also last year an independent review of the welfare in detention of vulnerable persons by former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Stephen Shaw found that “the time that many people spend in detention remains deeply troubling”, though Shaw added that the 28-day time limit proposal was “more a slogan than a fully developed policy”.
In January a parliamentary human rights committee issued a report recommending a 28-day time limit on detention.
“Without such a time limit, there is a reduced incentive for officials to progress cases as quickly as possible,” the committee report said. “Detention should be used only where it is necessary and proportionate. Indefinite detention causes distress and anxiety and can trigger mental illness and exacerbate mental health conditions where they already exist.“