This is a guest blog from Mishka, a member of the  Freed Voices  – a group of experts-by-experience calling for immigration detention reform. Mishka writes under a pseudonym. 

Last Tuesday, the Home Affairs Committee took evidence from Sir Stephen Shaw regarding the Government’s progress in implementing the recommendations in his first review on welfare in immigration detention. I consider that Shaw’s evidence is crucial to the Home Affairs Committee’s ongoing inquiry into immigration detention, instigated on 16th March 2018. I have to say that I found the first half of Shaw’s evidence session somewhat muddled, though.

As the first question, the Chair of the Committee, Yvette Cooper, asked Shaw about his view on the response by the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, after the follow-up Shaw Review was released on the 24th of July. Shaw said, ‘in both tone and content’, he was pleased with the Home Secretary’s response. However, only time will tell whether we too can be pleased with Home Secretary’s response, because we can only be pleased when we see his promises become a reality.

From the moment I saw the announcement that the Home Affairs Committee was likely to cover the question of a time limit on detention with Shaw, I eagerly waited to watch this evidence session. This was because I wanted to hear Shaw’s views on a specific time limit on detention. In his follow-up review, he states that, ‘at present, the case for a time limit has been articulated more as a slogan than as a fully developed policy proposal’.

When asked about a time limit on detention by Tim Laughton MP, Shaw said, ‘my own personal view is that I have no principled objection to time limits whatsoever’. He then said that he did not know where the idea of a 28 day time limit came from, and it had not been worked through. Nevertheless, contrary to his views on this 28 day time limit ask, there is plenty of evidence behind calls for a 28 day time limit.

The Home Affairs Committee also asked Shaw about the government’s Adults as Risk policy and Rule 35 process. From what I gathered, same as many others, he has major concerns that none of these are functioning as they should do. Shaw found that the Adult at Risk policy and Rule 35 process have failed to achieve their intended objectives. He had two suggestions to tackle this ongoing issue. The first is to split the level 2 in the Adults at Risk policy into further subdivisions, as he believes that the current level 2 is too broad and it covers too many people. Therefore, divide it in two parts or more, and stress that there should be a strong presumption against detention for people at the top end. His second suggestion is to introduce more independence in casework decision-making.

In my view, Shaw’s second suggestion seems functional. Ideally, a strong Rule 35 report should trigger release from detention; and people who fall into a higher risk category in the Adults at Risk policy should not be detained – except under very exceptional circumstances. However, at the moment, the people deciding whether to release someone with a Rule 35 report are often the same people making decisions to detain and to grant or refuse status, creating a possible conflict of interest. Therefore, taking the decision away from those who are responsible for the overall immigration case could make a difference in my view.

In addition to the brief dialogues about the compensation paid for wrongful detention and about allowing Skype in detention centres, I found the difference of opinions between Shaw and Rehman Chishti MP in relation to foreign national ex-offenders, interesting. Rehman Chishti used his own immigration history coming to this country at the age of six as an example. He argued that foreign nationals who come to this country and then later commit crimes should be removed once they have served their sentence – in the name of public safety.

In response, Shaw defended his view that the current policy and practice of deporting ex-foreign national offenders is often ‘monstrously disproportionate. This is an area where many interested parties have been raising concerns for many years, as numerous families have been split and lives ruined by current deportation policies. Therefore, I was glad to hear Shaw’ views on this.

Afterward, Douglass Ross MP asked Shaw his views on the lack of transparency of the Home Office when it comes to self-inflicted deaths in detention. In response to this, Shaw also raised his concerns about serious self-harm, asking question, ‘do we learn enough?’ I have seen a number of people in Harmondsworth who tried to self-harm and my twin brother tried to commit suicide in detention. I know by experience how Home Office caseworkers in Harmondsworth tackled my twin brother’s suicide attempt. Therefore, I must ask: how will the Home Office ever learn enough when their caseworkers – who are obsessed with targets – who consider humans as cases and numbers, address suicide attempts merely as ‘superficial cuts’ and ‘tactics used by detainees to frustrate removals’?

I agree with Shaw that the Home Office should be more transparent about self-inflicted deaths and serious self-harm in detention, and they must follow the Ministry of Justice’s normal practice. What is more vital is making sure that there are no self-inflicted deaths or serious cases of self-harm in detention in the first place. We have had enough deaths in detention centres already; we have one suicide attempt every day. Therefore, it should be about prevention rather than remedy and this requires much more than simply releasing accurate data after someone commits suicide, or reporting serious self-harm after it happens.

Lastly, the final stage of the evidence session must have been rigorous for Shaw. The Chair of the Committee suggested that the recommendations in his first report were not strong enough. Her contention was that the detention gatekeeper process is not functioning as it should, the screening process is not working, the three, six and nine-month case-review process is not working, and the Rule 35 process and Adult at Risk policy are not doing what they are intended to do. Even though initially Shaw held the view that his first report resulted in a number of improvements, he later said that there should be a change of culture. He also argued loss of liberty should be a judicial decision, not an administrative one. I consider this an important viewpoint.

I will be keenly following the Home Affairs Committee inquiry – as it progresses – to read the final report. However, we have had many such reports in the past, including Shaw’s two reports, but we are yet to see drastic changes to the UK’s detention estate. At the end of the day, discussions around immigration detention cannot be separated from politics and the upcoming Immigration Bill could be a turning point. Therefore, I hope that more and more MPs will gather cross-party support from all political parties – including interested MPs from the Conservative party – and will play their part in ending indefinite detention when the Immigration Bill is finally here.