Government defeated by peers over immigration detention time limit

Posted On: 
16th March 2016
The Government has been defeated in the House of Lords over how long people can be held in detention under its Immigration Bill.

Peers voted by 187 to 170 that detention in immigration removal centres (IRC) must be limited to 28 days, as recommended by a cross-party group of parliamentarians, unless a court rules otherwise.

It marks the second occasion the Government has faced defeat over the Immigration Bill, after peers opted to allow asylum seekers to work if their claims are not processed within six months. 


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Recent inspections of IRCs have found detainees being held for more than a year.

Inspectors found two instances where people were held for more than five years at Verne IRC in Dorset and Harmondsworth IRC in London.

The Government has previously argued that the majority of people detained in IRCs were foreign criminals or had breached immigration rules.

Crossbench peer Lord Ramsbotham tabled an amendment to the bill to place a limit on detention, arguing the current system “is not working”.

Labour and Lib Dem peers backed his motion.

Labour peer Lord Rosser argued the limit was necessary because indefinite detention had a negative impact on mental health. 

The peer also said the proposed change would let the courts decide the issue.

"The amendment does not preclude, or prevent, detention beyond 28 days, but it does mean, in a country where we uphold justice and the right to liberty, that at least after a period of time, the decision to continue to detain has to be a judicial one, not an administrative one," Lord Rosser said.

Lord Keen, who supported the Government in the debate in the Upper Chamber, argued the limit would grant illegal migrants attempting to avoid deportation an “easy target” to aim for.

"Such an amendment would significantly impact on our abilities to enforce immigration controls and maintain public safety,” he said.

"It should be borne in mind that an individual's compliance history and the likelihood of them absconding form part of the consideration whether or not detention is necessary in the first place.

"The Government takes the issue of deprivation of liberty very seriously. There is a well established principle that for an individual to be detained pending removal there must be a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable time, and that is carried out by virtue of judicial oversight.”