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Immigration judges denounce detention system in Bar Council report


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The numbers of people in immigration detention have increased in the last decade. The UK has one of the largest immigration detention systems in Europe. There is no time limit.

So opens a Bar Council report on Injustice in Immigration Detention, published today. As a Twitter-length summary of the issue, it is hard to beat.

Subtitled “perspectives from legal professionals”, Dr Anna Lindley’s report articulates some of practitioners’ long-standing concerns with detention. These include the competence and behaviour of the Home Office, the treatment of vulnerable detainees and the lack of access to legal remedies. The top line picked up in the Home Office’s own summary of the report is the “numerous injustices” perpetuated by this system.

While powerful criticism by campaigners and practitioners is nothing new, the comments from serving immigration judges (naturally anonymous) may cut more ice with the public. The judges’ concerns led the advance coverage of the report on BuzzFeed yesterday, for example.

The pick of the judicial comments:

Too many people are banged up. The EIG bangs on about presumption of liberty in Chapter 55, and connection to removal, but look what happens.

Some [Home Office Presenting Officers] don’t see what their role is. They have targets to keep people in detention. But their role should be to assist the tribunal to reach the correct decision in accordance with the law.

We see far more litigants in person. It is shocking when you consider that this is about liberty, a key human right.

The [Presenting Officer] has more resources than the applicant in person and there’s a limit to what you can do to correct for that… But it is forced upon us. In practical terms, it may mean slowing things down, translating the bail summary line by line, getting the applicant to talk about relevant issues. You make the best of it but it’s not as good as having properly funded representation.

Uncomfortably for practitioners, criticism of those appearing before the tribunals is not limited to Presenting Officers. Dr Lindley heard that that some lawyers

don’t know the law. They don’t speak or write English well. They put in generic grounds. They may not meet the clients. They don’t tell the client the truth. They don’t do Rule 15 [client care] letters. Their arguments are nonsense.

This report has its acknowledged limits. Despite being concerned with a system run by the Home Office, it does not include input from civil servants (the department has put out a short media response saying that it takes the welfare of detainees very seriously). Nor did it seek original testimony from people who have experienced detention.

Nevertheless it is a valuable contribution to the debate from a respected organisation. Immigration specialists will hope that the involvement of the Bar Council will serve to amplify their voice.

The Bar Council’s recommendations on the back of the report are:

  1. A 28-day time limit for administrative detention
  2. Automatic judicial oversight of the arrangements for holding people in administrative detention
  3. Adequate legal aid for advice and representation for those held in immigration detention to challenge the loss of their liberty
  4. A ban on the use of prisons for the purposes of administrative detention
  5. Special care for vulnerable people and victims of torture held in administrative detention, and
  6. Review and clarification of the criteria for administrative detention. The relevant policy and rules need to be accessible and intelligible so that all those who are affected by the exercise of powers to detain understand the reasons for the exercise of those powers and can challenge decisions where appropriate

These really are not much to ask.

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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.