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Adults at risk in immigration detention annual report scrapped after highlighting inadequacies


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Yesterday, the third annual inspection from the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) of ‘Adults at risk in immigration detention’ was published. On the same day, the Home Secretary discontinued the standing commission for this annual review.

The report focuses specifically on the efficiency and effectiveness of Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001, which allows medical practitioners in immigration removal centres to identify detainees who may be vulnerable. Vulnerabilities could include health risks, suicidal intentions, or having been a victim of torture.

As of July 2022, there were a total of 2,088 immigration detainees. Between 1 April and 30 June 2022, a total of 540 people were assessed for vulnerabilities and 224 were released. Rule 35 is therefore an essential safeguard for detainees. But The Chief Inspector, David Neal, says that “on the basis of this inspection, the Rule 35 process needs to be called out for what it is – ineffective”. Ten recommendations were made. Two have been fully accepted by the Home Office, and eight have been partially accepted.

The report and the Home Office’s responses

Where there has been an increase in the number of people detained, service delivery in several areas has been impacted. The subsequent increase in Rule 35 reports has put pressure on healthcare and Home Office systems and the inspection found missed opportunities to identify vulnerable detainees.

Initial health screening appointments on arrival were not conducted in a setting conducive to supporting disclosure of sensitive personal information despite this being a key opportunity for identifying concerns. Often screenings were missed and no follow-ups were sought. Consequently, people only knew what Rule 35 was when it was explained by legal representatives or other detainees, which inevitably led to confusion about its purpose. In other words, as a method of getting out of detention, rather than flagging vulnerabilities that indicate continued detention may be detrimental.

Language barriers meant the induction process was not easily understood and interpreters were not always appropriately identified. Whilst the Home Office is conducting a review to look at the extent and appropriateness of interpretation services, it also says it considers there are sufficient interpreter services available in detention centres (including translation devices).

The report suggests that the additional screening and assessment model developed at Derwentside are reviewed with a view to wider implementation in other centres. However, the Home Office has said that given Derwentside is a bespoke centre for the most vulnerable female immigration detainees, they do not intend to have comparable healthcare systems at other centres.

The quality of data relied on to manage the detention system is poor and record keeping is inaccurate. The report recommends that secondary quality assurance reviews are conducted on more Rule 35 responses, which should be reflected in updated, detailed and accurate electronic records.

Many staff involved in the process also often held the perception that safeguarding mechanisms in detention centres were being abused, despite limited evidence confirming the same. The Home Office has confirmed that the Rule 35 team standing operating procedure relating to the National Referral Mechanism is due to be updated to clarify responsibilities relating to modern slavery and trafficking claims made within Rule 35 reports. This is due to be circulated in the first quarter of 2023.

A Rule 35 training package for medical practitioners working in immigration removal centres has also been developed, which is expected to be delivered at the end of this financial year. But the Home Office consider that wider training and development in communication with healthcare providers, contractors and Home Office staff is somewhat already in place.

The Home Office has fully accepted the need to develop a plan to address resourcing challenges experienced by teams working in removal centres. There has already been a focus on recruiting new staff and they are considering providing financial incentives to improve recruitment and retention.

And a review of the Adults at Risk in detention policy and the Detention Centre Rules is also underway to consider whether Rule 35 should be simplified. It will also consider whether and how the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 will impact the detention system.

The future of the reports

Stephen Shaw CBE initially reviewed and reported on the welfare of vulnerable people in detention almost eight years ago. The review was commissioned by Theresa May as a result of widespread concerns about poor conditions and ill-treatment vulnerable people were subjected to in detention centres.

The annual ICIBI inspections were requested by Sajid Javid to try to uphold accountability and it was hoped that the recommendations would lead to gradual improvements. There have been three annual inspections, but the work done to address the problems highlighted in the first two “has progressed at a glacial pace, and with some areas seeing no improvement at all”.

It seems as though the government has lost interest in protecting vulnerable people in detention. From Shaw’s second report, published in 2018 onwards, the Home Office has consistently delayed the publication of these reports and rejected or not implemented the report’s recommendations.

This third report was sent to the Home Office on 25 November 2022. It was published on 12 January 2023. It will be the last of its kind commissioned by the Home Office and it ends an ongoing process of scrutiny and reform of the immigration detention system. Neal says:

“In light of my findings that the system is not working as well as it should and that progress towards implementing accepted recommendations for improvement is far too slow, I am concerned that the Home Secretary has judged this to be an appropriate moment to terminate her predecessor’s commission to ICIBI to carry out an annual review of ‘Adults at risk’ policies and safeguards. Because it is such an important area, I intend to continue to include this area in my own inspection programme, in line with my statutory remit, and I will continue to bring my findings to the attention of the Home Secretary, Parliament, and the public.”

With increasing emphasis on the punishment and removal of asylum seekers arriving in small boats, the government also has an increasing responsibility to identify and support vulnerable people. The Home Office has accepted a small number of recommendations from the ICIBI report and we await to see what/if action will be taken.

The government currently operates seven immigration detention centres and plans to open another two. As the Home Office shut’s itself away from scrutiny, it may be that we see more events like those at Manston this summer, and those that lead to the Brook House inquiry. External scrutiny might continue, but it is hard to say how much impact it will have on Home Office policy and procedure when the reports they have commissioned themselves are largely ignored.

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