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Shaw Review into the welfare in detention of vulnerable persons published: summary


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The review by Stephen Shaw into the welfare in immigration detention of vulnerable persons has been published today. The Government has responded stating that it “accepts the broad thrust of his recommendations” and that the Home Office expects its reforms to reduce the number of those detained and the duration of detention before removal.

There is no recommendaton for a time limit on detention and the Government has no plans to introduce any such limit. Without a limit, reforms are likely to be prove ineffective because civil servants and contractors have no incentive to use detention powers sensibly.

The review finds that:

  • The pre-departure accommodation at Cedars for families with children should be closed or its use changed on the basis that it is “a misdirection of public money that could be better used for other purposes” and that “the current use of the centre is simply unacceptable at a time of financial austerity”.
  • An absolute rule against detention of pregnant women should be introduced.
  • Those with serious mental illnesses should not be subject to immigration detention on the basis that their condition can be adequately managed in detention.
  • The presumption against detention should be extended to victims of rape and sexual violence, to those with a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to transsexual people, and to those with Learning Difficulties.
  • Rule 35 “does not do what it is intended to do” which is to protect vulnerable people who find themselves in detention. Shaw recommends that the Home Office immediately consider an alternative to the current rule.
  • There is a culture of disbelief amongst some staff. Shaw recommends that all caseworkers should meet detainees on whom they are taking decisions or writing monthly detention reviews at least once. The meeting should be face-to-face, or by video link, or by telephone.
  • There have been six cases in which the courts have found that the Home Office has acted in breach of Article 3 ECHR in its treatment of individual detainees and this is a matter of acute concern. These cases are found to suggest a particular need to focus upon healthcare assessment and treatment, upon failings in detention reviews, and failures in communication between different agencies. It is suggested the cases may indicate problems with attitude and cynicism on the part of some detention and Home Office staff.
  • The contractual requirement for an Incentives and Earned Privileges scheme at detention centres should be ended. It is an example of “unthinking application of Prison Service practice into immigration detention”.
  • The Home Office should review its processes for conducting detention reviews, including if and in what ways an independent element could be introduced. Further consideration should be given to ways of strengthening the legal safeguards against excessive length of detention.
  • The Home Office could show “much greater energy” in its approach to the use of alternatives to immigration detention.
  • A smaller, more focused, strategically planned immigration detention estate, subject to the many reforms outlined in the report, would both be more protective of the welfare of vulnerable people and deliver better value for the taxpayer.

Shaw suggests a much more open approach by the Home Office in future, including drawing up a research strategy for immigration detention.

In response, Minister James Brokenshire has stated that the Government “welcomes this important contribution to the debate about effective detention, and accepts the broad thrust of his recommendations”. Three key areas of reform will be taken forward:

  1. A wider definition of those at risk will be introduced, including victims of sexual violence, individuals with mental health issues, pregnant women, those with learning difficulties, post-traumatic stress disorder and elderly people, and to recognise the dynamic nature of vulnerabilities. A new “adult at risk” concept will be introduced into decision-making on immigration detention with a clear presumption that people who are at risk should not be detained.

  2. A new inquiry into mental health needs in Immigration Removal Centres will be carried out using the expertise of the Centre for Mental Health. This will report in March 2016.

  3. The existing detention review process will be replaced with a removal plan for all those in detention. This will supposedly lead to more focus on and momentum towards removal. A more rigorous assessment of who enters detention through a new gate-keeping function is proposed.

Brokenshire’s statement ends:

The Government expects these reforms, and broader changes in legislation, policy and operational approaches, to lead to a reduction in the number of those detained, and the duration of detention before removal, in turn improving the welfare of those detained. Immigration Enforcement’s Business Plan for 2016/17 will say more about the Government’s plans for the future shape and size of the detention estate.

The scope of the Shaw review was always too narrow, in that there was no review of the necessity or wisdom of immigration detention nor of the potential effect that a time limit on detention would have, but the findings are nonetheless highly critical of the current system of immigration detention.


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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.