BID’s longest-serving client: Detained for two years and ‘no risk of offending’

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BID’s longest-serving client: Detained for two years and ‘no risk of offending’

There are two suicide attempts a day in UK detention centres

Earlier in the month the legal charity Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) tweeted about one of their clients detained for close to two years.

We never really know which tweets on our Twitter feed are going to receive the most attention. We tweet daily about our clients’ experiences of appalling Home Office decision-making, flawed tribunal decision-making and heart-breaking personal stories. Last week one of our tweets captured people’s attention.

We told the public about how our client had been detained for almost two years (22 months) at a cost to the public purse of £53,664 (the tweeted figure is out by £1,000 – according to BID). We used the figure to shock, but the suffering behind the basic facts needs public exposure; although the case may be at the extreme end of those we currently support in excessive length of detention, nonetheless it serves as a not unusual example of the way in which detention is used so casually.

For us at BID, meeting people who are detained, and in our dealings with officials, there is no sense that any consideration is given to the fact that decisions to detain involve real people, and that detaining them is an unwarranted assault on their liberty. Detention is used arbitrarily and as a matter of convenience, and because the government department that has the power to detain has immigration enforcement as its primary function. The lack of any meaningful safeguards means that that power is exercised unfettered, other than when there are challenges, mostly from public law lawyers, to the lawfulness of individuals’ detention or, indeed, press attention.

A, our client that we tweeted about, came to this country as a child. Some years later he decided to leave the country. He was arrested trying to leave the country with a false document. Following his arrest, he was convicted and sentenced to 12 months, and served six. Following his custodial sentence, he was detained  22 months ago. At no point was the government able to remove him during this period. He applied for bail numerous times and one judge found that there was no evidence of risk of further offending. Bail was denied until now. How was this individual either a risk to the public or a risk of absconding? And why is risk of absconding given such great weight such that an individual’s freedom can be curtailed because of it?

While the last few years have seen reductions in both length of detention and numbers of people detained – in our view, a very welcome development – nonetheless, more than half of the people subjected to the cruel inhumanity of immigration detention are released, meaning that their detention has failed to serve its stated purpose. Be in no doubt that the toll that detention takes on people’s mental and physical health is brutal and enduring. Our most recent report, voices from detention, provides a platform to just a small percentage of the people detained annually to speak out about their experiences. These voices are seldom heard. Instead, stock responses from the Home Office are repeated mantra-like in response to each outrage that is featured in the news.

Despite Home Office pronouncements that detention is only ever used as a last resort and that its Adults at Risk policy acts as a safeguard against vulnerable people being detained, BID’s legal advisers bear witness daily to the arbitrary decision-making that results in people’s detention. No meaningful attention is paid to risk of absconding, risk of harm of offending, or removability, still less vulnerability. Decision after decision is made for convenience.

2019 has seen increased scrutiny on immigration detention by the media and by parliamentarians. This welcome development has resulted in two highly critical reports, one from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and one from the Home Affairs Select Committee. Both committees have called for wholesale reform to immigration detention, including a time limit.

BID believes any and all immigration detention is harmful. It is simply unacceptable to deprive people of their liberty for immigration purposes. It is damaging, unnecessary and expensive. The time for it to be ended is long overdue.