Image by @Carcazan

Today, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) adds its voice to a growing call for a 28 day time limit on immigration detention. In concluding the Committee’s months-long inquiry into immigration detention, the report makes five proposals for detention reform, including the introduction of a 28 day time limit to “end the trauma of indefinite detention”.

The UK is the only country in Europe which does not have a strict limit on the length of the time someone can be locked up in immigration detention. People who are detained do not know how long they will be detained or when they will be released; some people are detained for years.

The report also calls for decisions to detain and to continue to detain to be made independently of the Home Office in some cases. Currently, the decision to detain is made by a Home Office official, not by a judge.

The report’s publication comes days before the start of the Committee Stage of the Immigration and Social Security Coordination Bill on 12 February. Strong cross-party support for a 28 day time limit was already evident at the Second Reading of the Bill on 28 January. At the 2017 General Election, many political parties committed themselves to ending indefinite detention.

On the need for a time limit, the Committee report states:

“We consider these constraints should be placed on a statutory footing. The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill deals with the rights of those who can currently exercise free movement rights. There will be a change in their position as the guidance currently stipulates that “EEA nationals and their family members should not be detained whilst a decision to administratively remove is pending”. Given that the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill is likely to be the most significant opportunity to seek legislative change in the foreseeable future, we will be seeking to amend it to ensure that restrictions on the length of immigration detention apply. It is possible that a time limit on immigration detention could be introduced by administrative action, which would be some improvement, but, in our view a second best.

This makes it look even more likely that a proposal to table a cross-party 28-day time limit amendment will be made at the Committee Stage.

The Home Office spokesman, however, responded to the Committee’s proposals by saying that “We do not detain people indefinitely, and the law does not allow it.”

Eiri Ohtani, Project Director of the Detention Forum, said:

“We welcome and, indeed, expected a call for a time limit from the Committee. From any way you look at it, it can’t be right that people are detained indefinitely and deprived of their liberty, with no time limit, by the say-so of an official just because it is administratively convenient for the government. The Committee’s investigation has added further evidence and arguments which will only strengthen the call for a 28 day time limit.

“We commend the Committee for taking evidence directly from people with first-hand experience of indefinite detention, who know more than anyone its grave impact on their lives and loved ones. We hope parliamentarians continue to remember the incalculable human cost of indefinite immigration detention and how urgently a time limit is needed, as the Committee Stage of the Immigration Bill commences shortly.

“While the Committee’s input is welcome and we certainly hope that this Immigration Bill will be an opportunity for a necessary legislative change to happen, we are frustrated that similar recommendations have been made time and time again by many over the years. The announcement of a detention reform programme by the Home Secretary in July 2018, including an internal review of time limits, was welcome. But the Home Office chose to simply repeat their non-answer: “We do not detain people indefinitely, and the law does not allow it.” in response to the Committee’s proposals, this shows how far away we are from any meaningful reform.

“We invite the Home Office to engage seriously and openly with all the five proposals made by the Committee. Just like the Hostile Environment and the Windrush scandal, mass, routine, indefinite immigration detention is tearing our society apart. We can’t afford to delay changing this deeply flawed system.”