The Home Office has shown a ‘cavalier’ attitude to the deprivation of human liberty and the protection of people’s basic rights, says new report. The Home Affairs Select Committee has found that the department has ‘utterly failed in its responsibilities to oversee and monitor the safe and humane detention of individuals in the UK’, and called for it to do ‘much more’ to ensure that the power to detain is only used as a ‘last resort’.
As a result of the Home Office’s failings, which include ‘often’ not following the policy and guidance governing its detention powers, people are being wrongfully detained, held in immigration detention when they are vulnerable and detained for too long, with some people being held for more than three years, the inquiry found.
The inquiry was prompted by a BBC Panorama documentary exposing the physical and verbal abuse of detainees by some staff at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre in 2017, and by ‘persistent’ reports of the ‘inappropriate’ use of immigration detention and its ‘damaging’ effect on the mental health and wellbeing of detainees.
The report raises serious concerns about recent reports of an increase in ‘self-inflicted deaths’ taking place in or shortly after detention. As reported by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, one detainee who was a wheelchair user was held for 15 months despite an attempt to set himself on fire.
Yvette Cooper, the chair of the committee, said: ‘Making the wrong decision on detention can have a devastating impact on people’s lives – as we saw from the Windrush scandal, but also from many other cases we have seen. The lack of any time limit and of proper judicial safeguards has allowed the Home Office to drift and delay, leaving people stuck in detention for months who really shouldn’t be there at all.’
Campaigners have been calling for an end to indefinite detention in the UK for some time and the report, amongst a series of other robust recommendations for reform, urges the Government to implement a maximum 28-day time limit with immediate effect.
Indefinite detention ‘traumatises’ detainees and also means that there is ‘no pressure’ on the Home Office to make swift decisions on individuals’ cases’, the report says. In fact, the inquiry found that it is Home Office caseworking inefficiencies that are ‘unnecessarily’ prolonging individuals’ detention.
The inquiry also found that the use of detention as a means to enforce removal is ‘clearly’ prioritised above respect, dignity and the protection of vulnerable individuals. Vulnerable people, including victims of torture, are not being afforded the necessary protection to prevent them from unlawful detention and harm because of problems with the Home Office’s Adults at Risk policy, which was introduced in 2016 to protect vulnerable people but is ‘clearly’ failing to do so. The report recommends reverting to the previous policy of a presumption not to detain vulnerable individuals except in very exceptional circumstances.
The ‘serious’ lack of judicial oversight of Home Office decisions to detain ‘has to change’, the report said, with initial detention decisions being reviewed by a judge within 72 hours, and, rather than decisions to detain being through a paper-based exercise, caseworkers involved in the decision to detain an individual in all cases should be required to meet that individual ‘at least once’ prior to making a decision.
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘Detention is an important part of our immigration system – but it must be fair, humane and used only when absolutely necessary. We are committed to going further and faster with reforms to immigration detention and a comprehensive cross-government programme of work is in hand to deliver on that commitment.’