'Case has not been made' for more judicial oversight of immigration detention, Home Office says
Home Office also rejects call for time-limit on immigration and extra protections for LGBTQI+ detainees
The Home Office has said it sees no reason to add more judicial or other independent independent oversight to the way it decides whether and for how long to detain people in immigration detention, despite repeated calls from MPs and human rights groups to do so.
The department has rejected a call by the Home Affairs Select Committee to impose a 28-day limit on immigration detention and to ensure that a judge reviews every Home Office decision to detain someone within 72 hours, as in the criminal justice system. The response came after the department rejected similar recommendations by the Joint Committee on Human Rights last month.
"The government does not believe that the case has been made for a radical redesign of the current judicial and other independent oversight arrangements," the department said. It said the comparison with prisons “does not stand close scrutiny”, and argued that existing measures were enough to ensure decisions were fair.
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These measures include case progression panels that review detention cases, and plans to give people an automatic bail hearing after two months in detention. Progression panels have been criticised for their lack of independence from the Home Office by both the Joint Committee on Human Rights and Stephen Shaw, who first recommended their introduction in a review commissioned by the department. Shaw said last year that the panels had not been “implemented as I had envisaged”, citing their lack of independence and “missed opportunities” to move cases forward more quickly.
The Home Office plans to add indepedent members to the panels. It said it was making "good headway" in identifying individuals and "considering potential models for their involvement".
The department refused to commit to ensuring immigration caseworkers meet people they are deciding whether to detain at least once either before or shortly after detention. “Whilst we accept the broad thrust of this recommendation, the practicalities of meeting every detainee in the way described are more difficult,” it said.
The response rejected 24 of the 45 recommendations in the committee’s report, which was prompted by the exposure of abuse at Brook House Immigration Removal Centre. The March report said the Home Office had “utterly failed” to oversee the safe and humane detention of individuals who were due to be deported.
The Home Office accepted 18 of the recommendations and partially accepted four. In several instances, it did not set out new steps it would take but instead quoted existing policy – which the MPs had said the department “too often” failed to follow.
It agreed with the MPs’ finding that people should not be detained if there is “no prospect of imminent removal”, saying its guidance already reflected this – despite the committee bring told that some people had been held for months without any indication of when they would be deported.
It said it was already planning to recruit more UK Visas and Immigration caseworkers to speed up the asylum process, as suggested by the committee.
The department did agree to amend a project it had already begun to improve its screening process to identify vulnerable people – including torture victims – in light of the committee’s call for improvements. It said it would update the project to “include a broader approach to considering and assessing vulnerability”.
However, it rejected the committee’s finding that LGBTQI+ people should be considered “at risk” in detention centres – a status already given to trans and intersex people in Home Office guidance. It said it would “consider” publishing statistics for LGBTQI+ people in detention, as recommended by the committee.
But it declined to publish quarterly statistics on the number of people it wrongfully detains, because it would require too much work.
Other recommendations the government rejected included introducing legislation to ban the separation of nursing mothers from their babies, as well as separation of children from parents if it would lead to the child going into care. The Home Office said its existing policy prevented both of these scenarios, making legislation unnecessary.
It also rejected the MPs’ calls to introduce a policy to avoid detaining people over the age of 60, except in exceptional circumstances; end night-time transfers in and out of detention; reverse restrictions to legal aid access; and appoint a medically-qualified adviser to help develop health policy for detention centres.
It partially accepted the committee’s call to give people who have been convicted of a crime the same legal protections as other immigration detainees. However, it did not commit to speeding up the removals process to ensure people could be deported immediately upon being released from prison, rather than being detained for longer.