As the opening post in a mini series over the next few weeks on detention issues and cases I thought it would be worthwhile to give a plug to the work of the small charity Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID). BID relies on pro bono work by barristers in order to function and those barristers who profess an interest in or commitment to human rights work would be hard pressed to find a more immediate, close to home and challenging outlet for their pro bono energies than BID. I can speak from personal experience when I say it is not easy work, though, and I only recently re-started taking a regular BID list of cases after a long hiatus.
Like Ronseal, BID does exactly what it says on the tin and exists to promote and obtain bail for immigration detainees, meaning foreign nationals detained under administrative immigration law powers. BID prepares and submits the bail applications but relies on barristers to actually present the case at court. The charity is responsible for about 16 days worth of hearings per month, which adds up to bail applications on most working days.
Some immigration detainees get a lot of media attention, as with Babar Ahmed. Most do not. There are around 3,000 immigration detainees at any one time detained in what is known as the ‘immigration detention estate’ and in prisons. Theirs is an unpopular cause and the clients are often unsympathetic: criminal offenders of various levels of seriousness who face deportation. They are detained for uncertain, undefined periods, which is a very different proposition to a defined prison sentence, and many have mental health issues as a consequence.
The point of the work done by BID and its supporting panel of around 100 volunteering barristers (not all of whom are active) is not that it is sympathetic or easy, though. The charity’s mission statement says it all:
BID believes that asylum seekers and migrants in the UK have a right to liberty and should not be subjected to immigration detention. While detention exists it should be sanctioned by a court, time-limited, and detainees should have access to automatic, publicly-funded bail hearings.
One learns valuable lessons undertaking this work: how cheap liberty has become, how arbitrary and slack the behaviour of the UK Border Agency and how readily (and sometimes rudely) many judges endorse long periods of detention even where there is no history of active absconding.
Here at Renaissance Chambers all our immigration pupils have always taken at least monthly BID lists and many of our tenants continue to do so. BID could always do with more help though, and still have slots to fill on the November to January rota. Details of how to do so are here if you would like to volunteer and you can follow BID on Twitter at @BIDdetention. Lastly, if you are interested in immigration detention issues and campaigning, I can also recommend the work of AVID (Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees, @AVIDdetention) and DAS (Detention Advice Service, @DetentionAdvice), both also active on Twitter.