In May 2000 I began work at the Oakington “Reception” Centre near Cambridge for the Immigration Advisory Service, a charity offering legal advice and assistance to detained asylum seekers. And what a reception we offered.
It was my first proper job and, other than a demonstration outside Campsfield, my first contact with the United Kingdom’s asylum system. Asylum seekers who had committed no crime were detained at Oakington for around two weeks while the Home Office interviewed them and refused their claims. Only a handful of cases succeeded at the initial stage, although plenty more went on to win on appeal.
It was quickly apparent that system was wasteful, inefficient, bureaucratic, demeaning and dehumanising.
Oakington has now closed and the next generation fast track which followed it, beginning in 2003 at Harmondsworth and later expanding to Yarl’s Wood, is now also suspended, it was announced today. Appeals were heard so quickly under what has become known as the Detained Fast Track system that the High Court held the process unlawful and the Court of Appeal effectively suspended such appeals last week.
James Broken-shire, Minister for Immigration, says in the announcement:
Recently the system has come under significant legal challenge, including on the appeals stage of the process. Risks surrounding the safeguards within the system for particularly vulnerable applicants have also been identified to the extent that we cannot be certain of the level of risk of unfairness to certain vulnerable applicants who may enter DFT.
In light of these issues, I have decided to temporarily suspend the operation of the detained fast track policy. I hope this pause to be short in duration, perhaps only a matter of weeks, but I will only resume operation of this policy when I am sure the right structures are in place to minimise any risk of unfairness.
Notably, it is not just the appeals part of the process that is being suspended, it is the whole thing. Immigration detention will continue, but those detained solely for the purposes of being processed through the fast track will be released.
With a separate drastic reduction in immigration appeal hearing rooms also due to occur in August, the loss of the fast track appeals is a further blow to capacity in the main appeals system.
Broken-shire also refers to the Shaw review into welfare in immigration detention and says that when he reports the Home Office “will take his findings seriously and use them to continue to improve whatever processes are in place.” Overall, the tone of the announcement is thoughtful and serious rather than confrontational and dismissive.
No doubt some other replacement fast track not involving appeals will be launched by the Home Office in due course, but in the meantime let us savour the respite.