Lord Ramsbotham, former HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and a crossbench peer, has been named Detention Forum Champion in recognition of his ongoing work on detention reform.

Lord Ramsbotham joins Labour’s Paul Blomfield MP, SNP Stuart McDonald MP, Conservative Caroline Spelman MP, and Liberal Democrat Baroness Hamwee in a distinguished cross-party group of Detention Forum Champions.

Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, joined Eiri Ohtani, Detention Forum Project Director, to present Lord Ramsbotham with the award at Westminster on 4 February.

Lord Ramsbotham has long been a valued friend and ally of Detention Forum, both for his wise counsel on a broad range of strategic and tactical questions and for the authority and credibility that his unwavering support gives to the cause of detention reform.

Maurice Wren, Refugee Council

The award comes at a time of heightened scrutiny of the UK’s immigration detention system, with campaigners hopeful that the Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill represents an opportunity to legislate for an end to indefinite detention. MPs from across the political spectrum have put their support behind calls for a 28 day time limit.

A member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees, Lord Ramsbotham has a long-held interest in the asylum, immigration and detention system. As former HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, he was responsible for overseeing inspections of detention centres across the UK, describing the system as ‘not fit for purpose’.

In 2016, he led calls for independent judicial oversight of detention beyond 28 days. While his amendment was ultimately unsuccessful, it did pressure the Government into agreeing to implement automatic bail hearings for people without deportation orders detained for longer than 4 months.

At the time, Lord Ramsbotham expressed his profound disappointment that the Government had refused to adopt the recommendations of the 2014-15 parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention – including a 28 day time limit.

I have often thought that the worst experience in life is to be associated with something that you know to be fundamentally wrong, but feel unable to prevent. I am experiencing that today, because, to our collective shame, this House could be about to sanction something that, as a nation, we have roundly condemned, and indeed fought against, when practiced by others over the years—namely, the arbitrary detention of innocent people by administrative diktat, rather than the due process of the rule of law…

As has been reported time and again, conditions in our immigration removal centres are not good for a whole variety of reasons, not least lack of Home Office oversight. Four months is far too long for anyone to be condemned to remain in such conditions, certainly when it seems to be primarily for the convenience of incompetent officials and is not sanctioned by a court of law.

On receiving the award, Lord Ramsbotham called for a more accountable and effective detention system, and recognised the potential for change in the current political environment.

Unfortunately the use of immigration detention has not changed much over the years that I have been associated with it. People are still being held for far too long.

There have been milestones such as the appointment of the Chief Inspector, and the Windrush change, but successive Home Secretaries have failed to get a grip of the system for far too long.

My concern is that government should be conducted as efficiently as possible, and our national reputation. My career in the Army, in which our every move was directed towards improving our operational efficiency, taught me what could be done, and I am appalled by how the Home Office fails to do this, such as in its appalling handling of case work. I was also taught that, unless someone, some named person, is made accountable and responsible for making things happen, as is the practice in every business, hospital and school, nothing happens. No one is accountable or responsible for anything in either the immigration system or the Prison Service, and look what a mess they are both in.

I think that there is a very good chance [of change happening soon], because Brexit should have sharpened political and official minds. If they are sensible they will examine and do away with millstones, such as the number of cases that are still pending – I seem to remember the figure 631,000 and counting from the 2016 Bill – and the need to process people quickly once we are responsible for our own borders. We will keep fighting!