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New Home Office instruction on risk assessment for immigration detainees


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A new Detention Services Order, DSO 03/2016, has been issued by the Home Office. The name is innocuous — Considering detainee placement — but we can hope that it will have a significant impact because what it really requires is a proper risk assessment before a person is accepted into immigration detention. And about time too. We have in recent years seen some appalling and utterly in humane detention decisions, at least one of which appears directly to have led to the death of a very vulnerable elderly man, Alois Dvorcak.

DSO 01/2003 is replaced. This also concerned risk assessment but included no statement that detention might not be suitable; it very much looked like a procedure for its own sake rather than with any view to a change of outcome. It was also criticised in the Shaw Review for being poorly written and was described as “a process driven document which gives no insight into risk factors.”

Good riddance, basically.

Whether the new DSO can contribute to changing the Home Office culture of prolonged mass detention is questionable. There is at least some suggestion, if you know what you are looking for, that detention might not be suitable if risk factors are present:

The presence of risk factors do not in themselves preclude detention. They may, however, mean that individuals need to be managed in a particular way once detained and/or require careful placement in the detention estate to manage or mitigate the risks in question. It is important to ensure that possible risks that may make a person particularly vulnerable are identified accurately and notified appropriately. More generally, careful consideration must be given to whether the risk factors may engage the policy on suitability for detention as set out in section 55.10 of the Enforcement Instructions and Guidance. Where that policy is engaged, consideration must be given as to whether there are very exceptional circumstances present that justify detention in what would otherwise normally be an unsuitable case.

Unfortunately this paragraph leads with the the suggestion that risk factors do not prevent detention before going on in a very qualified way to imply that risk factors might make a person unsuitable – but only by cross referencing other Home Office policy documents. It does not seem like a promising start. It reads more like a suggestion to officials that they should detain anyway but with a qualifier that a judge or coroner can be taken to when a detainee is inevitably harmed.

Source: Considering detainee placement – Publications – GOV.UK

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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.