Immigration detention casework comes under fire
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has received some criticism for its handling of immigration detention casework, with a recently published report calling for improvements to the process to ensure that people are not detained for any longer than necessary.
Immigration detention inspection
John Vine, Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) and Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, published the report following a joint inspection into the quality and effectiveness of immigration casework, and the resulting knock-on human impact.
The report, entitled ‘The effectiveness and impact of immigration detention casework’, noted that on average in the first quarter of 2012, around 3,500 people were detained under immigration powers, either in immigration removal centres or prisons. More than 40 of those people had been held for over two years.
While the courts have held that detention with a view to removal is only lawful if there is a realistic prospect of this occurring within a reasonable period, there is no statutory time limit on how long someone can be detained.
HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) consistently finds that detainees experience heightened levels of anxiety and distress as a result of their uncertain futures. Each individual detained costs nearly £40,000 a year.
During the inspection, the inspectors found that in most cases, the decision to detain was defensible and properly evidenced and most were progressed diligently and in line with legal and policy guidelines.
Areas of concern
However, inspectors discovered a number of areas of concern, including:
- in a quarter of cases reviewed, insufficient progress had been made;
- immigration case files were in a poor condition, making it hard to understand cases, and missing information could have included documents to establish or challenge the validity of unlawful detention claims;
- many detainees were ex-prisoners and in some instances, more could have been done to resolve their cases before the end of their custodial sentences;
- in some cases, decisions to detain a person or to maintain their detention had not been made with reference to all relevant factors, such as age and being a victim of trafficking;
- decisions to detain and release ex-prisoners were made at different management levels. This was in spite of an earlier recommendation from ICIBI that UKBA should change the level of authorisation required for release;
- detainees experienced considerable difficulties in obtaining good quality legal advice and many had not applied for bail to an immigration judge;
- in some cases there was a failure to consider evidence of post-traumatic stress and mental disorders in case reviews, and in one case a victim of torture was detained without evidence of exceptional circumstances to justify this; and
- there was little evidence of the effectiveness of Detention Centre Rule 35 procedures, which are designed to provide safeguards for some of the most vulnerable detainees.
Recommendations for improvement
Following their inspection, HMIP and ICIBI made ten recommendations for improvement for the Agency. These included establishing an independent panel to examine all cases of detainees held for lengthy periods, and conducting detention reviews on time and with the appropriate level of authority.
“We were pleased to find that in most cases the decision to detain was defensible and properly evidenced,” said John Vine and Nick Hardwick. “However, despite much effort at improving the system, it is questionable whether the length of detention in some cases was necessary or proportionate to the legitimate aim of maintaining immigration control. Casework must be appropriately skilled and resourced, and subject to more effective quality assurance.”