Numerous reports criticise immigration detention

The UK's system of immigration detention has been criticised by a number of high-level reports that have found individuals detained for years at a time, the continued use of "disproportionate force and restraint", and "rude behaviour and verbal abuse" by detention centre staff. The Council of Europe's Committee for the prevention of torture has called for the government to reconsider the UK's system of indefinite immigration detention.

National Preventive Mechanism report

The first of three recent reports examining immigration detention was published in mid-March, and drawn up as part of the UK's responsibilities under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment. This requires signatory states to establish a 'national preventive mechanism' (NPM), defined in the report as:

"[A] body or group of bodies that regularly examine the treatment of detainees, make recommendations, and comment on existing or draft legislation with the aim of improving treatment and conditions in detention."

The NPM report notes that during deportations "there was disproportionate use of force and restraint" by 'overseas escorts' (deportation officers), as well as the use of "very offensive language in front of detainees and others." The report also notes concern that "there were no recognised safe procedures for the use of restraint in the confined spaces of an aircraft."

This remains the case despite the death of Jimmy Mubenga more than three-and-a-half years ago, who was unlawfully killed while being restrained during his deportation to Angola.

As well as immigration detention, the NPM report contains information on the monitoring of prisons, police custody, court custody, children in secure accommodation, detention under mental health law, deprivation of liberty "and other safeguards in health and social care", military detention and customs custody facilities.


Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration reports

At the end of March a report by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, found that foreign nationals released from prison and awaiting deportation were being held in immigration detention for years at a time.

Foreign national ex-offenders from outside the European Economic Area are deported after serving their sentence if they receive a custodial sentence of 12 months or more. Those from within the EEA face deportation if they receive "a custodial sentence of 12 months or more for an offence involving drugs, violent or sexual crimes or a custodial sentence of 24 months or more for other offences." [1]

The report found that foreign national ex-offenders who did not comply with their deportation order "were being detained for long periods after their custodial sentences were completed, while the Home Office sought to obtain an ETD [emergency travel document]." The lengths of time spent into immigration detention run into years:

"Among the 52% classified as individually non-compliant who were detained under immigration powers when we conducted our sampling, the average detention time was 523 days; for those where the embassy was categorised by the Home Office as 'non-compliant', the average detention time was 755 days. In many of these cases, we assessed that there was little prospect of a travel document being obtained within a reasonable timescale."

Another report by the Independent Chief Inspector found "widespread non-compliance" with guidance that allows immigration officers to enter business premises to conduct immigration raids without warrants:

"Our file sampling identified a number of serious failings. This included evidence that suggested that the power may have been used unlawfully in six cases, either because the authorising officer was not graded appropriately or because it was not used within the time-frame set out in legislation.

"Just under two-thirds of the cases we examined lacked the required justification for the use of this power (59%). In a further seven cases there was insufficient information to enable us to form an opinion."

The use of the power also "increased significantly, rising from 843 times in 2012/2013 to 1,049 times in the 2014/14 financial year, with six months of the year still remaining." It seems likely that this increase is related to the government's policy of creating a "hostile environment" for irregular migrants. [2]

The publication of both reports by the Independent Chief Inspector was delayed by at least two months by Theresa May, the home secretary, who decides when they will be released to the public.


European Committee for the Prevention of Torture report

On 27 March, the Council of Europe's Committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (CPT) released its report documenting its seventh visit to the UK, which took place in September 2012.

The CPT delegation received "three allegations of excessive use of force" at the two immigration detention centres they visited, Colnbrook and Brook House.

"In Colnbrook, one detainee claimed that, approximately three months before the delegation's visit, he had been grabbed by five or six custody officers following a verbal dispute over the quantity of food served and that he was thrown to the ground, and one custody officer had stamped on his right foot. Another detainee alleged that on 23 July of 2012, following a 'dirty protest' in his segregation cell, four custody officers entered the cell and violently twisted his arms to handcuff him behind his back.

"Further, in the Induction and Reception Unit at Colnbrook, the atmosphere was noticeably tense and many detainees complained about rude behaviour and verbal abuse by some staff members."

The delegation also received "a few allegations of excessive use of force and ill-treatment by escort staff (Reliance [the private company which runs deportation operations on behalf of the government]) in the course of removal operations."

The CPT report contains numerous recommendations: that no more force than is strictly necessary be employed by staff; that activities available to long-term detainees be increased; that information be provided in languages that detainees understand; that detained people be permitted a minimum of one hour outdoor exercise per day; that the presence of psychiatrists and doctors be increased; and that the use of handcuffs on people escorted out of detention centres be based on individual risk assessments, amongst other things.

One key recommendation is "that the United Kingdom authorities reconsider their policy of indefinite immigration detention." The government's response dismisses this: "We disagree with this recommendation, and there are no plans to introduce a fixed maximum time limit for immigration detention."

The government has recently expanded the number of immigration detention places available through the conversion of a former prison in Dorset into a detention centre. [3] The UK's immigration detention centres can now hold approximately 4,000 people, a number which reaches 5,000 - the highest in Europe - if prison spaces used to hold post-sentence immigration detainees are included. [4]

The CPT report also contains information on law enforcement agencies, prisons, and mental health detention facilities in Scotland.


Further information on immigration detention in the UK

[1] Melanie Gower, 'Deportation of foreign national ex-offenders - Commons Library Standard Note', 29 April 2013
[2] Alan Travis, 'Immigration bill: Theresa May defends plans to create 'hostile environment'', The Guardian, 10 October 2013
[3] Jennifer Allsopp, 'Sun, sand... and indefinite detention', OpenDemocracy, 3 March 2014
[4] 'The Detention Forum responds to the government's latest plan to expand immigration detention estate', The Detention Forum, 13 June 2013

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