Curb Home Office's immigration detention powers, MPs and peers demand
The Home Office should be stripped of decision making powers in immigration detention cases, an influential group of MPs and peers has recommended.
In a hard-hitting new report, the Joint Committee on Human Rights have called for urgent reforms to the detention system in a bid to make them “fair, humane, decent and quick”.
Labour MP Harriet Harman, who chairs the group, hit out at the absence of independent oversight in the process as she warned mistakes were “inevitable” if new safeguards were not implemented.
“A civil servant – nameless, faceless and behind closed doors – just ticks a box to detain them,” she said.
“The first that person will know about it is when someone bangs on their door in the early hours of the morning to bundle them into an immigration enforcement van and take them to a detention centre.”
The group of MPs and peers say the treatment of the Windrush generation coupled with the £21m in compensation paid out by the department for wrongful detention proved that an independent arbiter should have the final say on cases.
Ms Harman added: “If a person is suspected of a crime, they cannot be detained by the Government; they can be detained only by the police, who are independent of Government.
“If the police want to continue to detain a person beyond 36 hours, they have to bring that person before a court, which is, of course, totally independent of Government.”
The report also called on the Government to end the "mental torture" of indefinite detention by implementing a strict 28-day time limit except in exceptional cases.
'LESS LIKE PRISONS'
The UK is currently the only European country to allow detainees to be held indefinitely – something which the JCHR claims gives immigration officials a reduced incentive to work swiftly to resolve cases.
In the third-quarter of 2018, 30% of all detainees were held for longer than 28 days, with 50 individuals being held for longer than a year.
Among the reports other recommendations are better access for detainees to legal aid while they are being held, as well as calls to make detention centres “less like prisons” in a bid to reduce the anxiety and distress of those awaiting deportation decisions.
Ms Harman added: “After the right to life, the right not to be unlawfully detained is one of the most important human rights. It should not be the case that a person has fewer protections from wrongful detention as an immigrant that they would if they had actually committed a crime.”
“We should ensure that, in future, no one is detained unless the decision is taken independently. The Home Office should make its case, but someone independent must take the decision if a person is to be deprived of their liberty.”
The Home Office have been approached for comment.