Watchdogs: Immigration detention casework must improve

Immigration casework should be improved so that people aren't detained for longer than necessary, said Nick Hardwick, Chief Inspector of Prisons, and John Vine, Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

The recommendation is contained in a new report, “The effectiveness and impact of immigration detention casework”, which represents the findings of the first thematic inspection conducted jointly by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMI Prisons) and the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI).

Inspectors were concerned to find that immigration case files were in a poor condition, making it hard to understand cases. They note that missing information could have included documents to establish or challenge the validity of unlawful detention claims.

In a quarter of cases reviewed, insufficient progress had been made. Many detainees were ex-prisoners and in some instances, more could have been done to resolve their cases before the end of their custodial sentences, the report says.

In some cases, decisions to detain a person or to maintain their detention had not been made with reference to all relevant factors, such as age and being a victim of trafficking.

Decisions to detain and release ex-prisoners were made at different management levels. This was in spite of an earlier recommendation from ICIBI that UKBA should change the level of authorisation required for release.

Detainees experienced considerable difficulties in obtaining good quality legal advice and many had not applied for bail to an immigration judge.

In some cases there was a failure to consider evidence of post-traumatic stress and mental disorders in case reviews, and in one case a victim of torture was detained without evidence of exceptional circumstances to justify this.

The report also shows there was little evidence of the effectiveness of Detention Centre Rule 35 procedures, which are designed to provide safeguards for some of the most vulnerable detainees.

On any given day during the first quarter of 2012, around 3,500 people were detained under immigration powers, either in immigration removal centres (IRCs) or prisons.

More than 40 people held in IRCs have been held for over two years. While the courts have held that detention with a view to removal is only lawful if there is a realistic prospect of this occurring within a reasonable period, there is no statutory time limit on how long someone can be detained.

HMI Prisons consistently finds that detainees experience heightened levels of anxiety and distress as a result of their uncertain futures. Each individual detained costs nearly £40,000 a year.

Inspectors found that in most cases, the decision to detain was defensible and properly evidenced and most were progressed diligently and in line with legal and policy guidelines.

Nick Hardwick and John Vine said: “We were pleased to find that in most cases the decision to detain was defensible and properly evidenced. However, despite much effort at improving the system, it is questionable whether the length of detention in some cases was necessary or proportionate to the legitimate aim of maintaining immigration control. Casework must be appropriately skilled and resourced, and subject to more effective quality assurance.

“Although all immigration detainees have a right to apply for bail, there is no routine independent system of reviewing cases. We recommend that an independent panel should be established to review the cases of all individuals who are held for lengthy periods. We believe this would motivate change in the system.”

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