Today the government published a follow-up report by Stephen Shaw on its progress in implementing his 2016 recommendations on detaining vulnerable people. The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, also announced a series of reforms including a pilot of mandatory bail hearings after two months.
The original Shaw Review, back in 2016, had identified multiple failings in how the Home Office treated, for example, victims of torture or those suffering from mental illness. In response, the Home Office introduced a new Adults at Risk policy, but recent research by the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees said that the revised policy “fails to achieve its stated aims”.
Today’s report saw Mr Shaw, a former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, “marking the Home Office’s homework” as well as adding new recommendations for reform of the system. His report says:
- It is “not clear” that the Adults at Risk policy has cut the number of vulnerable people in detention and many NGOs and detention centre managers think it has made things worse
- But the new policy has “has engendered a genuine focus on vulnerability”, is a “work in progress” and should not be abandoned without further attempts to make it work
- There are now better internal safeguards against excessive use of detention but there should be “robust independent oversight”
- The Panorama revelations of detainees being abused at Brook House show that the systems of recruitment, training, whistle-blowing and complaints are “satisfactory so far as they go” but, obviously, not good enough
- “The compliant environment does not fit well alongside [alternative to detention] for ex-offenders who cannot be removed from the country”
- “The case for a time limit has been articulated more as a slogan than as a fully developed policy proposal.”
Be that last point as it may, without a time limit on detention civil servants have no real, genuine pressure to act quickly to remove or to detain people who can actually be removed in the first place. As Colin pointed out when Shaw 1.0 was published, a time limit creates real accountability.
Among the report’s 44 new recommendations are:
- The current Adults at Risk policy should be amended. Detention of anyone at AAR Level 3 should be subject to showing ‘exceptional circumstances’.
- Consideration should be given to AAR Level 2 being sub-divided and, if adopted, the presumption against detention for those in the upper division should be strengthened. The Home Offce should consider the merits of the UNHCR Vulnerability Screening Tool.
- The Home Office should no longer detain any adults over the age of 70 except in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
- I recommend new arrangements for the consideration of Rule 35 reports. This should include referrals to a new body – which could be within the Home Office but separate from the caseworker responsible for detention decisions.
- SystmOne templates should be urgently amended so that detainee healthcare records no longer identify detainees as prisoners
- All relevant Home Office staff should be trained in making assessments of vulnerability within the parameters of the Adults at Risk policy
- The Home Office should no longer routinely seek to remove those who were born in the UK or have been brought up here from an early age.
- The Home Office should roll out the use of body worn cameras to all IRCs and robustly monitor their use
Speaking in Parliament earlier, the Home Secretary welcomed the “comprehensive and thoughtful report”. Sajid Javid announced several immediate measures:
- The Home Office will pilot an alternative to detention scheme, working in the community with vulnerable women who would otherwise be detained in Yarl’s Wood
- There will also be a trial of having mandatory bail hearings after two months, down from four months at present
- The number of Home Office staff in detention centres is to be increased, as is the amount of data published on immigration detention
- The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration will report annually on “whether and how the Adults at Risk policy is making a difference”
- The practice of housing three detainees in rooms built for two will cease as part of a “new drive for dignity in detention”
- Officials will review how time limits work in other countries.
Four Key Commitments from the Home Office today, in response to Stephen Shaw’s Review:
— AVID (@AVIDdetention) July 24, 2018
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott welcomed the announcements. Reacting on Twitter, Detention Forum director Eiri Ohtani said that “the Home Secretary didn’t promise to end immigration detention, but (painfully) slowly, we are making some progress. Much much more needed, of course!”
Two separate parliamentary inquiries into the state of immigration detention are ongoing. One is by the Home Affairs committee of MPs, while the joint Commons/Lords human rights committee launched its own investigation today with a call for written evidence. The deadline is 7 September 2018.