Liberty calls for urgent action on immigration detention

By agency reporter
July 26, 2018

The human rights organisation Liberty is calling on the government to urgently stop detaining people in immigration removal centres without release dates, after Stephen Shaw’s second review showed that there is still much more work to be done to halt the serious suffering caused by the routine use of indefinite detention.

Mr Shaw’s first review into the welfare of people held in detention, published in 2016, exposed the serious damage caused to mental health by detention.

It concluded that  “detention in and of itself undermines welfare and contributes to vulnerability”, and made 64 recommendations to improve the welfare of those held in detention – including an reduction in its use, a ban on detaining pregnant women, a “presumption against detention” of survivors of rape and sexual violence, people with learning difficulties and those with post-traumatic stress disorder and an investigation of alternatives to detention.

The detention system continues to hold nearly 30,000 people annually including children, older people and survivors of torture, trafficking and sexual violence. They are given no idea how long they will be detained for and no release date.

Liberty is calling on the Government to include a strict 28-day time limit on this form of detention in its forthcoming Immigration Bill.

Stephen Shaw’s review argues that the time many people spend in detention remains ‘deeply troubling’ and that there is a gap between the intentions of policy makers and the practice on the ground.

The Home Secretary has commissioned of an internal Home Office review looking at how a time limit on immigration detention might work.  This is unnecessary process that only delays much-needed reform. The case for a time limit has been made over and over again and has cross-party and civil society support.

The pilot of a two-month automatic bail system is welcome, however there is growing evidence that the current bail system is chaotic and counter-productive for those held in detention. Any pilot must also take into account the problems with the current format. And tinkering with the bail system is no substitute for imposing a time limit on detention.

Liberty also welcomes the exploration of community-based alternatives to detention pilots. Any future alternatives must have the clear objective of reducing the UK’s use of detention.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “More than two years on from Stephen Shaw’s damning first review, and the Government is still locking up tens of thousands of people including pregnant woman and survivors of rape, trafficking and torture without telling them how long they will be held or when they will be released.

“People’s lives are being wasted, communities damaged and families separated in the name of this costly, failing system. We can’t afford to wait years longer while the Government tinkers around the edges – we need urgent action, a move to more effective and humane alternatives and a 28-day time limit on detention at the earliest opportunity.”

Putting a 28-day limit on immigration detention

Immigration detention in the UK operates in stark contrast to how people suspected of a criminal offence are treated. In normal circumstances, police can hold people for 24 hours before they must charge them with a crime or release them. This can be extended to 36 hours – but only if authorised by a senior police officer – and 96 hours on the say-so of a judge.

However, people detained by the Home Office are subject to no such protections and can be held for months or even years. Officials detain people with no oversight from a judge.

Evidence shows that indefinite detention causes significant physical and mental harm, with mental health worsening significantly after just one month in detention. 

The chorus of voices calling for a statutory time limit on immigration detention is diverse and growing. It includes experts-by-experience, faith leaders, Parliamentarians from all parties, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, the British Medical Association, the Bar Council, and the National Preventative Mechanism – which consists of 21 statutory bodies including Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Care Quality Commission.

Detention does not result in effective immigration enforcement gains. Home Office statistics for the year ending March 2018 show that 54 per cent of people leaving detention were released back into the community and are not removed from the UK – meaning their imprisonment was entirely pointless. 

The Government spends over £76 million a year on detaining people who are later released. The Home Affairs Select Committee has revealed that more than 850 people were wrongfully held in immigration detention between 2012 and 2017.

Alternatives to detention – focusing on engaging with people in the community – exist and are operating well.

When the Government pledged to stop detaining children in 2010, it introduced the Family Returns Process to manage cases in the community.

The process aims to safeguard children, and families can now be detained for a maximum of three days – and it must be a last resort and approved by the Independent Family Returns Panel.

The policy has led to a sharp increase in voluntary returns when a family is not granted leave to remain in the UK. Between 2014 and 2016 a staggering 97 per cent of families who returned did so without enforcement action. 

* Read The Report of the  Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom here

* Read A Matter of Routine: The use of immigration detention in the UK here

* Immigration detention FAQs from Liberty here

* Liberty https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/

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