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Home Office fails to act on recommendations of family returns advisers


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The Home Office has belatedly published the reports of the Independent Family Returns Panel for 2012 to 2014 and 2014 to 2016. Home Office responses have been published in parallel. Why the Home Office was withholding from publication for so long the 2012-14 report is something of a mystery.

The panel is made up of medical and child safeguarding experts, was established on 1 March 2011 to provide independent case-by-case advice to the Home Office on how to best safeguard children’s welfare during a family’s enforced return. The panel was put on a statutory footing by the Immigration Act 2014. Members are generally retired from senior posts including with social services, the police, the teaching profession, from Barnados and a child psychiatrist.

The recommendations included:

  1. More extensive use of the Cedars family returns facility;
  2. Development of a comprehensive behaviour policy which includes the use of physical intervention as a last resort;
  3. Home Office arrest teams stop automatically wearing full protective clothing for all enforcement visits and instead apply a risk assessment approach. Automatic use of protetive clothing was considered “detrimental” to affected children.

In response, Cedars was closed down and policy on use of force against families and children is yet to be developed. All the Home Office say is that managing removal of a family in which children are uncooperative is “complex” and remains under review. One might think that the complexity of the situation and its sensitivity might make development of a policy a top priority, but apparently not.

The Home Office also rejected the proposal on protective clothing, saying that “the default position is that all officers must wear full Personal Protective Equipment for safety reasons” and that exceptions can only be authorised at assistant director level.

Several recommendations have been accepted and implemented by the Home Office, including on improvement of holding rooms at airports for families, sharing information with the panel in at least some trafficking cases and training Home Office contractors and staff.

Finally, the panel — which depends on the Home Office for information, which does not include any lawyers or legal representatives nor any members familiar with immigration law or process and which did not as far as can be ascertained seek the views of any actual, y’know, lawyers — also had some words in the 2014-16 report for legal representatives of families going through the returns process:

3.11  The Panel recommended that legal representatives should consider the impact of their actions on the welfare of the children involved in families at the ensured stage of the process. In particular, injunctions and judicial reviews should be lodged earlier in the process to avoid the disruption to children’s lives and the confusion this can cause when lodged at the last minute.

3.12  It is still the case that legal representatives lodge legal objections to removal at the last minute in order, it seems, to frustrate the process. The Panel believes that children and families should be given access to good quality legal advice early in the family returns process in order to avoid families being arrested before objections are raised. The arrest and return of a family is a traumatic experience for any child and it is too often the case that legal representatives do not raise objections until after the family has been arrested. While the Panel accepts that the parents are usually the clients, legal representatives should give greater consideration to the impact of their actions on the welfare of the children involved.

It is a bit difficult to know where to start with this. The panel seems to envisage a situation where a lawyer declines to follow a client’s instructions because of the lawyer’s own view of the impact this might have on the children of the client. Let it suffice to say that the panel seems to have adopted the Home Office world view of blaming lawyers for the actions and/or instructions of their clients and shows no awareness of the professional duties of and regulatory regime for lawyers.

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Colin Yeo

Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.