Immigration detention has been described as a ‘black hole’ at the heart of British Justice. But on 15 March 2016, the House of Lords voted by 187 to 170 to cast a little bit of light on to the system.
The House of Lords (that is, the second chamber in Parliament, the first being the House of Commons) voted in favour of an amendment to the Immigration Bill (which can be read at paragraph 84 here). The amendment proposes that a person cannot be detained for a period longer than 28 days or for periods of longer than 28 days in aggregate. This period of detention can be extended by the First-tier Tribunal if the Home Office apply for an extension on the basis that “exceptional circumstances of the case require extended detention”.
The UK currently has set no time limit on immigration detention, which is in direct contradiction with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines on detention. The UK has also opted out of the EU Returns Directive, which has an upper time limit of 18 months. Of the 33,189 people who left detention in 2015, 38% had been held in detention over 29 days. According to analysis from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, indefinite detention “particularly for individuals without any realistic prospect of removal, may be incompatible with Article 5 (right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).”
A lot of the current Parliamentary momentum has been generated as a result of last year’s Cross-Party Parliamentary Report on Immigration Detention which recommended a time limit of 28 days and branded the current system as “expensive, inefficient and unjust”. The Chief Inspector of Prisons recently echoed calls for a time limit. A Review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons (the Shaw Review), commissioned on behalf of the Home Office, returned in January 2016 with 64 recommendations for improvements to the system in order to better protect vulnerable people such as pregnant women and torture survivors.
In light of this, the amendment to the Immigration Bill should be welcomed as progress but the amendment is also limited in who it applies to. The amendment’s proposals do not apply to anyone who has served a prison sentence of twelve months or more. So, for those who believe that indefinite detention should not be inflicted on anyone, there is still work to be done. In the words of a former detainee, Fred, who was speaking on behalf of Freed Voices, a group of experts by experience on immigration detention:
”Indefinite detention was an abuse of our universal human rights. The time-limit needed to address this abuse has to be universal too – for everyone, and not just some.”
The amendment will now head back to the House of Commons and might come back to the Lords at some point. However, it seems partial change could be on the horizon and, whatever the result, a substantial block in Parliament are now aware of the current immigration detention system’s deficiencies.
This post is the author’s opinion, not that of RightsInfo.