Parliament’s human rights committee has recommended taking the decision to hold a migrant in immigration detention away from the Home Office. The group of MPs and Lords also call for an end to indefinite immigration detention, an idea that has gained political impetus recently with the possible support of the Democratic Unionist Party.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights makes five major recommendations:
1. The decision to detain should not be made by the Home Office but should be made independently.
Instead, “decisions should be pre-authorised by a person or body fully independent of the Home Office”.
2. Introduce a 28 day time limit to end the trauma of indefinite detention.
Only a judge should be able to authorise detention for more than 28 days, in exceptional circumstances.
3. Detainees should have better and more consistent access to legal aid to challenge their detention.
The committee says that there is a case for “reinstating legal aid for all immigration cases”. In particular, “people liable to deportation should… have prompt and automatic access to legal advice”.
4. More needs to be done identify vulnerable individuals and treat them appropriately.
The report calls for “better provision for the identification of individuals who lack mental capacity in detention” .
5. The Home Office should improve the oversight and assurance mechanism in the immigration detention estate to ensure that any ill-treatment [or] abuse is found out immediately and action is taken.
Recommendation 1 has been around the block: legislation making judges rather than enforcement officials the key decision-makers on detention was passed two decades ago. Part III of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 provided for routine bail hearings within nine days of a migrant’s detention. But it was never commenced, and later repealed. Recommendation 2 has some cross-party support, with supporters of a time limit planning attempts to amend the Immigration Bill in committee. The prospects for legal aid look dimmer: the forthcoming Ministry of Justice LASPO review may shed light on whether there is any hope there.