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Earlier today, Sir Stephen Shaw gave oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. I was half listening to the section of the session which touched on the issue of a time limit – I will have to read it in full in Hansard later to fully understand it. Did you watch to it? You can watch it here.

Of the many parts of the follow-up Shaw Review, none raised more eyebrows than Mr Shaw’s assertion in his foreword that a proposal for a 28 day time limit on immigration detention is nothing more than a ‘slogan’.

I understand and share that disquiet: what Mr Shaw says or does not say has significant bearing on the future of the immigration detention system.

In writing this, I do not mean to discredit his work or his team: the forbidding length of their initial review and the follow-up review is a testament to their meticulously patient investigation into the UK’s immigration detention system, which has never been scrutinised in this way before.

Against this general attentiveness, however, the way that Mr Shaw made this comment struck me as curiously casual. After all, he himself admits that ‘I have not directly considered the case for a time limit on detention’. He then continues: ‘This (the case for a time limit) did not form part of my original review…’.

As far as we are aware, Mr Shaw or his team never directly asked 1) whether they should be a time limit, 2) how long such a time limit should be and 3) how such a time limit should work.

Yet, he seems to have decided rather unilaterally that the 28 day time limit recommended by many is just a ‘slogan’, when many of us stressed (yet again) how such a time limit can drastically achieve what he recommended that the government should work towards: detention reduction and reduction of harm in detention.

Anyway, this is what he seems to have said today to the Home Affairs Committee.

And he also said this.

Shaw confirms that he didn’t look in detail into time-limits in details for his reviews but that he takes no issue with the idea of establishing a time-limit on detention, as found in the criminal justice system.

— Women for Refugee Women (@4refugeewomen) September 11, 2018

And this.

At the same time, it is clear that the continuing practice of long-term detention does not escape Mr Shaw’s attention.

He says in his report that ‘the time that many people spend in detention remains deeply troubling’, when confronted by the fact that the number of people detained longer than six months has increased since 2015, despite the decrease in the average length of detention and the number of people detained.

To colleagues whose raised eyebrows haven’t had a chance to return to their normal position, let’s re-assess where we are now, compared to a few years ago, and think about what we need to do now.

The initial Shaw Review was met with a perfunctory ministerial statement, probably shorter than an A4 document. I met some parliamentarians who were fuming, because they saw that brief reply as the proof of the government’s lack of sincerity in reforming the detention system.

On the day that the follow-up Shaw Review was published, I was more interested in how the Home Secretary responded than what was in the review. Curiously, it was also the Home Secretary, not the Immigration Minister, who responded this time.

According to the oral statement given by the Home Secretary, as part of its ‘innovative reforms’, the Home Office is poised to conduct an internal review of time limits on immigration detention in other countries ‘to build an evidence base to better inform the debate in the UK’. This is coming from the same government department which, not so long ago, was busy insisting that there is no such thing as indefinite detention.

Is the government feeling compelled to ‘do something’ about indefinite detention? It would have been odd for them not to notice that there is a unanimous call for a time limit. And the pressure to ‘do something’ must have gone up after the scandal of the detention and deportation of some of the Windrush generation.

There is no guarantee that this internal review will end well, though. Besides, we doubt if such a review will add anything to the recommendations for a time limit that have already been proposed by many groups, institutions, reports and inquiries.

The risks are indeed many. The internal review could conclude that a time limit is not, after all, necessary. It could suggest a time limit that is so long that it is rendered meaningless. Although we see no reason why the internal review has to be a lengthy one, the Home Office can let it run forever, discouraging some parliamentarians from entertaining the idea of a time limit amendment during the passage of the Immigration Bill in 2019. And it is unlikely that people who are affected by indefinite detention will be asked about their views.

The timing of this internal review is also crucial.

It comes at a time of heightened parliamentary scrutiny over the UK’s use of immigration detention: both the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights are conducting, separately, inquiries into immigration detention. Both inquiries’ terms of reference include investigating the need for a time limit. Will the Home Office’s internal review take the same line of thinking as these Committees’ inquiries? Only time will tell.

Putting aside these questions, it’s clear that there is no better or more crucial time than now for all of us to be making a cogent argument for a 28 day time limit on immigration detention for all. After all, reports, reviews and inquiries are not enough to create change: the follow-up Shaw Review is not the only show in town.

With some colleagues, the Detention Forum has been putting together a short working paper on our argument for a 28 day time limit, to clarify our thinking and inform others why a 28 day time limit is a credible and practical proposal.

You can have a look at the document here. And we would love to hear what your argument for a 28 day time limit is, or a shorter or a longer time limit for that matter.

At the end of the day, regardless of what the internal review might conclude, our view remains that there must be a 28 day time limit on immigration detention. The right not to be deprived of your liberty indefinitely is a fundamental principle. And the government – particularly the Home Secretary – must know this.

Talks of ‘innovative reforms’, ‘an internal review’ – they mean little to people who are detained with no time limit today. The latest statistics show that the longest period of time someone was detained at the end of June 2018 was 772 days (almost 26 months). 59% of people who were locked up on 30 June 2018 had been in detention longer than 28 days. None of the thousands of people who are detained, right at this moment, knows when their detention will end. This must change.

And we are in the dark as to how the progress of the promised ‘innovative reforms’ will be monitored, reported and scrutinized, to ensure that they will have a positive impact on the very people who are in detention or at risk of detention.

Now MPs and peers have returned to Parliament, indefinite immigration detention is again one of the contentious issues on many of their minds. We hope you will be writing to your MP, asking them to urge the Home Secretary to introduce a 28 day time limit on immigration detention, without delay.