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Immigration Minister struggles with meaning of “indefinite” detention

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire seems to be struggling with the meaning of the word “indefinite” in this debate on the Immigration Bill:

There is a common misconception that detention under immigration powers is indefinite. I want to make it clear to the Committee that that is not the case. Although there is no fixed statutory time limit on the duration of detention under immigration powers, it is not the case that there is no time limit [emphasis added]. It is limited by statutory measures, the European convention on human rights, the common law, including principles set out in domestic case law, and the legal obligations arising from the Home Office’s published policy, which states:

“Detention must be used sparingly, and for the shortest period necessary.”

Brokenshire is picked up on this by Kier Starmer but he sticks to his guns:

Keir Starmer: On the question of “indefinite”, surely the detention is indefinite in the sense that there is no definite limit to it. The detention might not be unending, but it is indefinite in the way that we all understand “indefinite”.

James Brokenshire: Indefinite detention implies detention that cannot be brought to an end..

No, Minister. There really is no time limit, and “indefinite” means (according to Google, Fount Of All Knowledge):

1. lasting for an unknown or unstated length of time.
“they may face indefinite detention”
synonyms: unknown, indeterminate, unspecified, unlimited, unrestricted, undecided, undetermined, undefined, unfixed, unsettled, unresolved, uncertain.

2. not clearly expressed or defined; vague.
“an indefinite number of generations”
synonyms: vague, ill-defined, unclear, loose, general, imprecise, inexact, nebulous, blurred, fuzzy, hazy, confused, obscure, ambiguous, equivocal, doubtful, dubious
“a word with an indefinite meaning”

Or, if you prefer Chambers (as I do):

1. Without clearly marked outlines or limits

2. Not clearly distinguished in character

3. Not precise, unclear

4. Undetermined…

That EXACTLY describes immigration detention in the UK. There is no time limit. The limits on detention are unclear and not precise. Immigration detention in the UK is “indefinite”.

Colin Yeo
Colin Yeo A barrister specialising in UK immigration law at Garden Court Chambers in London, I have been practising in immigration law for 15 years. I am passionate about immigration law and founded and edit the Free Movement immigration law blog.

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