The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) today published a report on immigration detention, following an extensive inquiry. The report calls for a 28-day time limit on detention to be introduced, and for decisions about detaining and continuing detention to be independent of the Home Office. At the moment, people subject to immigration control can be detained indefinitely, without knowing when they will be released, and sometimes detention can go on for years. The decision to detain is an administrative one made by a Home Office caseworker, and does not go before a judge.
JRS UK runs an outreach support service to the two detention centres at Heathrow and has longstanding experience of accompanying those held in detention. In evidence submitted to the JCHR inquiry, JRS UK recommended the introduction of judicial oversight of the decision to detain, and a time-limit of 28 days or less. Sarah Teather, Director of JRS UK also Chaired a Cross Party Parliamentary Inquiry into immigration detention in 2015 in her previous role as a Member of Parliament, which recommended the adoption of a 28-day time-limit.
Responding to the report, Sarah Teather said, “The UK detains far too many people for far too long, and at JRS UK we see on a daily basis how this destroys lives. We welcome the call for a time limit, which echoes the cross party parliamentary inquiry I chaired in 2015. It is high time to end indefinite detention.”
As part of its call for greater judicial oversight, the report recommends that automatic bail hearings be extended to include people classed as “foreign national offenders”, even in the event that its recommendation on a time-limit is not accepted. The Immigration Act 2016 allows for automatic bail hearings take place every four months but excludes foreign national offenders. Under the JCHR’s proposals, detention would be reviewed by a judge after 72 hours.
Sarah Teather said“The call for more safeguards for foreign national offenders is welcome. In fact, some of those classed as foreign national offenders are among the most vulnerable detainees. For example, in our outreach work to the Heathrow IRCs, we often come across victims of trafficking who acquired criminal convictions as a result of coercion from their traffickers. They serve prison sentences and are then transferred to immigration detention, where they are classed as ‘foreign national offenders’. The hostile environment agenda also criminalises many every day activities such as working and driving for certain categories of migrant lowering the threshold for them to enter the criminal justice system. It is all too easy for asylum seekers to get caught in a web of punitive measures once destitute that it can be very difficult to get out of.”
Research published by JRS UK in November 2018 revealed that people recognised as victims of trafficking by the Home Office were sometimes kept in detention on the basis of criminal convictions that resulted solely and directly from their experience of trafficking. Those classed as foreign national offenders and held in detention have already served any prison sentences they were given.
The JCHR’s report also raises serious concerns about “availability and timeliness of legal advice in detention”, and finds that “The Adults at Risk Policy [which is designed to reduce the detention of vulnerable adults] does not give adequate protection to individuals at risk of harm in detention either by way of policy or of practice.”
A proposal to table cross-party amendment to the Immigration Bill, that would place a 28-day time limit on immigration detention is expected at the Bill’s Committee Stage, which will commence next week. The idea received substantial cross-party support at the Second Reading of the Bill on 28th January.