We were all terribly disappointed last month that, despite an impassioned debate, the House of Commons rejected the amendments to the Immigration & Social Security Bill put forward by David Davis which would have placed a time limit on detention. Lib Dem Peers have picked up the fight as the Bill makes its way through the Lords and have tabled a number of amendments. The amendments, which were debated on Monday 14 September, can be seen in this link: Sally’s speech is here.
They include setting a time limit to detention stating that individuals cannot be detained longer than 28 days unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is a change in circumstances and that the initial criteria for detention (set out in another amendment as: the person can be removed shortly, detention is strictly necessary, and detention is in all circumstances proportionate).
Having a time limit to detention is necessary because currently people can be detained indefinitely and, also re-detained again when, for instance, they report to the Home Office. Unless individuals can get lawyers involved there is no oversight by the judiciary – the rule of law is effectively abandoned. In the year ending March 2020 26% (some 6000) of those leaving the UK were detained for over 28 days; 475 had been detained for more than six months. 600 people have contacted Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) for help with bail whilst in such detention.
It is terrible that anyone coming to this country is detained when they have not committed a crime. Also that anyone who has committed a crime has not been released when their sentence is spent, just the same as any UK citizen. Agencies working with victims of detention have been particularly concerned by its impact on people who are already vulnerable. The uncertainty of not having a release date is very damaging to the mental health of detainees as highlighted in recent research done by the British Red Cross (Never Truly Free; the humanitarian impact of the UK immigration detention system). Many detainees say that they would have preferred to have had a prison sentence as at least then they would then know when they would be released and don’t have to live with constant uncertainty that, even when released, they may be detained again. People with underlying physical health conditions may not get the treatment they need when in detention.
Sally and other Lib Dem Peers have done a fantastic job of getting cross party support for these amendments. In putting forward the amendments Sally spoke very passionately. and the next week when the debate was resumed, was supported by a range of peers, with great speeches from Sally Hamwee again, Sarah Ludford, and Liz Barker as well as cross benchers, Labour and Green peers, and the Bishop of Durham. They made powerful speeches referring to the humanitarian, medical and practical grounds that support the amendment. They emphasised that the current system is inefficient, expensive and harmful. There was very little support for the government’s position who argued that – there was no policy of indefinite detention and that there must always be a realistic prospect of removal and various safeguards in place; a time limit would encourage abuse of the system; public safety would be compromised if serious criminals were automatically released after 28 days. The amendment will be re-tabled at the Report Stage when it will be voted on by the House of the Lords.
The fight will continue, for as long as it takes, and you can see the strong policies that Lib Dems have on immigration detention here.