The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has just published a damning report looking at the removals process at the Home Office. That the Home Office is not effective in conducting removals is hardly news to those of us who work in immigration law but even I was surprised by some of the stark statistics that emerge from the report.
The report is surely required reading for any judges dealing with bail applications or unlawful detention cases.
Many failed asylum claimants and foreign criminals facing deportation will not possess valid travel documents that will allow them to be accepted by their home country. Such a travel document is needed, otherwise the country concerned will simply not accept them and they will be bounced straight back to the UK. An ‘Emergency Travel Document’ (ETD) is therefore often needed. There are two complicating factors in obtaining these.
The first is that ETDs need to be obtained through the embassy or High Commission of the person concerned. Some embassies and High Commissions are happy to oblige and will provide ETDs once some basic information about the person is provided. Other embassies and High Commissions are extremely unco-operative.
The second complicating factor is that the person may be desperate to avoid removal and may deliberately refuse to co-operate with providing the information needed to obtain the ETD. Others may simply be unable to provide information or documentary proof about their nationality and identity that is required.
The obstacles to removal can therefore be formidable, and the Home Office does not have an easy job on its hands. Given the purported importance of removals and the fact that the removed is often detained while the ETD is sought, one would therefore expect the process to be very carefully managed. On the contrary, the Chief Inspector report reveals:
- The average detention time for foreign criminals in the sample who were classified by the Home Office as individually non-compliant was 563 days
- Where the embassy was categorised by the Home Office as non-compliant, the average detention time was 755 days
- 78% of those in the inspection sample who were in contact with the Home Office were not being actively caseworked. 15% of the sample had been granted some form of residency or leave to remain, so should not have remained in the pool. By my calculation that leaves only 7% of cases that were being appropriately and actively case managed.
- The Home Office was applying for too many ETDs that had little prospect of being used, rather than focusing resources on cases where re-documentation was likely to result in removal.
- There was no central monitoring of the progress of the stock of approximately 4,000 outstanding ETD applications that the Home Office manages at any given time, which had led to some applications remaining unresolved for long periods
- Supporting information that could assist in securing an ETD was not retained on a systematic basis as part of the visa application process
- Management information on aspects of the ETD process was inadequate and did not give an accurate picture of performance, including information on how many currently removable cases would need an ETD to be concluded.
The average periods of detention are particularly shocking. It seems particularly astonishing that anyone can be detained for such long periods when it is not their fault that they cannot be removed, it is the fault of their embassy. The Chief Inspector, John Vine, agrees:
I was concerned to find that the Home Office was still keeping foreign criminals, who had completed their prison sentences, in immigration detention for months or even years. I recognise the importance of deporting those who represent a threat to the public. However, the practice of detaining FNOs for months or years in the hope that they will eventually comply with the ETD process is not only potentially a breach of their human rights, it is also poor value for money for the taxpayer.
Hopefully judges will bear this independent report in mind when considering bail and unlawful detention applications by those trapped in detention while the Home Office flounders around so ineffectually.