The Not Going Home Office: Home Office refuses to end indefinite detention of immigrants

August 19, 2019

3 min read

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What's going on here?

The Home Office has rejected new advice published in a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights that proposes a 28-day limit on immigration detention to prevent the current system from being “slow, unfair and expensive”.

What does this mean?

In February of this year the Joint Committee on Human Rights report concluded that the current system must be reformed “urgently”. The committee cited the “trauma” caused by “indefinite detention”, which has been linked to causing and exacerbating “mental illness” amongst detainees, as the main reason for imposing a time limit on the system. This was followed up in March by warnings from MPs on the Home Affairs Committee that the Home Office has “utterly failed” to protect vulnerable detainees from abuse, as well as criticising the “unacceptable” absence of any time limit on the detention of immigrants.

The proposal for a time limit has cross party support, with Conservative MP David Davis and Labour MP Harriet Harman, the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, strongly voicing their support. Despite this, the Home Office has refused to implement such a time limit as it would “severely constrain the ability to maintain balanced and effective immigration control, potentially incentivise significant abuse of the system, and put the public at risk”. 

Subjects may be detained under the Immigration Act 2018 when:

  •   They first enter the UK
  •   They claim asylum (if classed as a Dublin safe third country or a non-suspensive appeals case)
  •   They have claimed asylum and been rejected
  • They do not have any immigration status

What's the big picture effect?

The current system is undeniably “slow, unfair and expensive”. The UK is the only EU country to not have a statutory time limit on the detention of immigrants which has created a system where 35% of detainees are currently held for longer than 28 days. Moreover, between January 2000 and April 2018 there have been 35 deaths in detention centres, 14 of which have been suicides according to the charity Inquest. Analysis by Liberty and Cambridge Econometrics concluded that a 28-day time limit would save the taxpayer £35 million per year, with annual costs currently totalling around £108 million for around 25,000 detainees.

However, the Home Office has steadfastly rejected such a limit. Instead they highlighted some reforms of their own that are allegedly improving the system:

  1. The introduction of case progression panels that reassess whether detainees should be released or deported every 3 months
  2. A pilot scheme that halves the length of time before detainees are given an automatic referral to a bail hearing.

But, both the panels and the pilot scheme on bail hearings have been only raised more criticism. The panels are made up of Home Office officials which means that decisions are not taken by a body that is fully independent of the Home Office. The Joint Committee on Human Rights highlighted that a lack of independence in decision making means mistakes are “inevitable” (as we have witnessed in the Windrush scandal) since the same department that can detain individuals is also charged with deportations and removals. Moreover, the pilot scheme on bail hearings does not apply to those who have been convicted of a crime. This has led to further criticism that the fundamental human right to not be unlawfully detained has been flaunted by the Home Office, with £21 million extra having been paid in compensation over the past 5 years.

The 28-day limit reform has been tabled as a cross-part amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill but the Home Office’s insistence that this is a bad move could create some opposition over the policy that would end indefinite detention. Whether parliament can effectively reform the immigration detention system remains to be seen.

Report written by Will Holmes

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