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“It’s not our problem now”


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So, the other day I was doing a Bail for Immigration Detainees case out at Hatton Cross. These are seldom cheery affairs as it involves all of the misery of Hatton Cross and long term immigration detention but none of the financial recompense. It reflects rather badly on me that I usually adopt a wounded air of martyrdom the night before.

The client had been detained for over a year in immigration detention and this was his third bail application since September

Razor Wire by Derek Bridges
Razor Wire by Derek Bridges

Despite the fact it was very obvious that the client was not going to be removed for some time to come, if ever, because his country’s embassy was simply uninterested in providing a travel document for him, I was pessimistic about the prospects of winning. It is hard getting many immigration judges to take such cases seriously despite the loss of human liberty involved.

Bail was granted, happily.

Perhaps sensing something amiss, the judge pointedly said that we should ensure the client reached his bail address in a distant city over two hours away by train from central London. This bit of the process might as well be done by magic fairies for all I knew. After all these years I still had no idea how on earth a released client would actually physically reach their distant bail address.

Unusually, I went back with the client to the detention suite. It was immediately apparent that there was a problem:

Initially the security guards took the line was that it would be ‘against the law’ to let him travel back with them in their van. This soon morphed into not being insured to take him back. A call to their HQ entrenched their position. There was simply no budging and the informal motto of private contractors everywhere were duly uttered:

It was very much the client’s problem, though. He was being abandoned at Hatton Cross with no money, no means of transport and a bunch of very heavy possessions he could not carry alone. It felt like it was also my problem, having gotten him into this predicament:

One of the guards was kind enough to help us carry them out of the building. Unlike the supervisor, he could see that the situation was unacceptable.

The client did eventually make it to the bail address, thankfully. But no thanks to the jobsworth private security contractors, who it would seem had forgotten to bring a travel warrant and would not admit to any mistake or put things right.

BID_logo_without_wordsBail for Immigration Detainees need all the help they can get. You can get information about volunteering here. Barristers and solicitors can join the volunteer rota for representing BID clients. It isn’t cheery but it is important.

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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.


14 Responses

  1. I don’t understand why the man was sent to the hearing with all his luggage. They must have somehow known he would get bail. I thought that if someone appears in person and it is not just done by videolink, and they then get bail, they get taken back to check out of the IRC and pick up their stuff. All very odd…..I am so glad you were there to rescue the situation.

    1. Why would they know “he would get bail”, even Colin did not fancy his chances beforehand? The caseworker let alone the guards would not be able to crystal ball the outcome, well until the Judge was known, as lets face it, it’s a complete lottery, the guards were entirely correct to refuse to convey the applicant, under guard a man that had been granted his liberty, clearly however there does need to be a better process for travel warrants to be issued at court, a mountain made of a mole hill.

    2. You really are so perverse. What on earth would have happened to the guy? It was quite the mountain as far as he was concerned.

      It seems to me that in common with many at the Home Office you have entirely lost sight of the humans whose lives are profoundly affected by the immigration system. You have no human level relationship with them and see them merely as statistics or packages to be moved around. A dose of humanity is much needed.

    3. I chose to think that PO meant that the escorts had made a mountain out of a molehill – otherwise I agree: those remarks sounded callous and lacking in understanding of the reality of the situation of a person without any money or support whatsoever. One idea would be the putting of a PQ by a sympathetic MP, purely to elucidate who should take the responsibility, so that at least more people can know what is meant to happen. In an ideal world this kind of information would be printed (in various languages) on a card given to detainees applying for bail.

  2. I agree that they could not have known the outcome:.. that is why I was wondering why they were acting on that assumption. Surely it is adding to the cruelty of the situation to tell someone to pack their bags, when the result cannot be known ahead? Having to go back into detention and unpack everything – and presumably go through the whole process of being checked back in (which can take several hours) – would be very demoralising.
    You can see why the video link is so favoured, but seems, to me, to put the person at a disadvantage, particularly when it does not work properly or when they can be switched on and off as if they are not a real person. I suppose another aspect is that very often a person allowed bail will have a surety who would be there and would presumably help out (as Colin did). There should be a system for a travel warrant to be issued for getting to the bail address or money and travel directions given for the bus fare back to the IRC. I think Colin said the travel warrant had been forgotten, and yet the guards seemed to be saying it was not their responsibility. But alternatively in the event of the (ex)detainee needing to get back to the IRC to collect luggage, there needs to be some practical help provided.

    1. Jackie, it is completely normal for a detainee to be brought with all their belongings. It happens every time. What was odd was that this guy was separated from his money, and their was the problem with the travel warrant too.

      Often immigration detainees lose their cell if produced for a bail hearing, which is very disruptive to them. It is a price worth paying if bail is granted, obviously, but adds to the misery if bail is refused.

      I also feel that video links put the applicant at a disadvantage. The judge does not even need to be in the same room as the human over whose liberty he or she presides. It is an added distance that diminishes the all important human element.

    2. Thanks for clearing that up Colin – I have not been at enough bail hearings to be sure. I do have a memory of going back to the IRC and helping to fetch belongings, but that was maybe an occasion when the videolink had been used and perhaps I was on my own….I agree about the point with cells – particularly as the area can also be changed, with the result that the detainee is with a completely different set of people. Of course on a few occasions it can be a blessing – but it is an added misery not to be able to get thesympathy of your room mate if you are sent to a different cell.
      A recent casualty of the videolink system was someone who has been in detention for two years and desperate to get out (another case of two countries each saying they cannot provide travel documents). The system did not work so the judge relied on what the presenting officer said and told the man to complain afterwards, by which time he had lost his bail address. He is still in detention.

  3. I think we can all learn from Collin’s experience & raise these issues to the judge after he has granted bail !

  4. I have seen similar situations arise. Perhaps it’s possible for the judge to deal with this when setting the conditions of bail. For example, the judge could say that the applicant should remain temporarily detained until the travel warrant is provided. Not ideal, as some judges are more pragmatic than others and the condition would need to be very specific so as to not give Home Office any excuse to detain longer than necessary.

  5. Yes – maybe the judges should be encouraged to ask what arrangements are being made and ask the escorts to produce the travel warrant, so that it is done there and then. And the IJ might also ask what cash the person has. The other reason it would be good to tie up these loose ends is that if all the paperwork is done back at the removal centre, departure for a far flung part of the UK can be delayed, meaning that the person can arrive in an unknown place quite late at night. (Of course it still does not address the problem of those who fail having to go back to the IRC and set about the dispiriting task of unpacking.)
    If I get started on these issues I shall move on to the impossibility of being a credible surety for someone who might get sent anywhere in the country. Ideally the detainee should be offered a bail address near to someone who is proposing to take on this responsibility.

  6. Oh dear, the usual overblown hyperbole, when this is in reality a process issue. One thing that Jackie said that would be practical (as versus emotional whinging via the internet), would be you (Colin), or perhaps the likes of ILPA, putting the query in writing to someone high up the food chain in the home office, if you actually take this practical step I would have thought it would resolve the problem.

    1. Done already, but the problem isn’t so easy to solve – how do you suggest the Home Office ensures that private contractors are properly trained and know how to do their jobs and look after their charges? The Home Office is already aware of significant problems in the contract but is basically powerless to do much about it short of the nuclear contract termination option, which would be expensive.

      A bit of emotion is a useful antidote to the impersonal machine bureaucracy of the Home Office and its contractors.

  7. He was no longer their charge, but your understanding of the macro versus micro management of private contractors in more developed than I had expected.

    Sensible challenges framed in moderate language are always more likely to yield results rather than screaming hyperole, phrases like ‘the vast machine’ or ‘monolith’ and suggesting that every individual that works for the HO are evil incarnate etc etc, this simply alienates the people you seek to lobby.

  8. In response to P O: From what I observe I think that Colin would make a distinction between the grumbling that so many of us do when faced with the workings of the Home Office and the kind of tone to adopt when taking up our concerns with them or with MPs etc.I Both responses can co exist surely? And surely it is up to each of us to decide for ourselves what kind of language we want to use in any particular situation, depending on what we want to achieve? I have seen barristers who are really scared of the Home Office and who do not want to put a foot wrong – one advising an asylum seeker to drop a case against them that he had initially won.The results for their clients have been disastrous. Give me a bit of honest grumbling any time!