Tell Your MP now to support Amendments
We were all terribly disappointed last June when, 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 Sally Hamwee and Sarah Ludford picked up the fight when the Bill went into the Lords and tabled a number of amendments regarding detention including setting a time limit to detention. This stated 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 is met”. Another amendment set out those criteria as: “the person can be removed shortly, detention is strictly necessary, and detention is in all circumstances proportionate”. These amendments can be seen here. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/58-01/121/5801121-R-I.pdf. Whilst they apply to f EEA and Swiss nationals in the UK after the Brexit transition period it is expected that they will also be applied to asylum seekers.
Sally and Sarah did a fantastic job of getting cross party support for these amendments. When first putting forward the amendments Sally spoke very passionately and was supported by a range of peers who made powerful speeches referring to the humanitarian, medical and practical grounds that support the amendment. You can see the speeches here. https://bit.ly/33pzmay.
It was, therefore, not a surprise that around midnight on 5 October the Lords voted 184 to 156 to accept the key amendment putting a time limit of 28 days on detention with robust judicial oversight. The other detention amendments were seen as being consequential to that amendment (House of Lords speak meaning that they would be supported if the Time Limit amendment was). Despite the late hour Sally, and others, made the case for reform very passionately. Roger Roberts said “I ask the Government to take another look. Let it be a humanitarian look and let us go on to be rather proud not of what we have done in hostility but of what we have done in caring and hospitality.”
You can read the debate here https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2020-10-05a.487.1&s=speaker%3A13477#g495.0
Speaking to the Independent before the voting took place Sally said “Locking people up for months on end without giving them any idea how long they’ll be detained – is clearly inhumane. They are not criminals, just human beings seeking sanctuary.
“That is why the Liberal Democrats are determined to amend the Conservative government’s legislation and limit the time an asylum seeker can be detained to a maximum of 28 days.” https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-brexit-immigration-lords-priti-patel-refugees-b743060.html
Why This Matters
Having a time limit to immigration detention is necessary because currently people can be detained indefinitely and, also re-detained again when, for instance, they report to the Home Office. Many of these individuals will not have been convicted of a crime in the UK – they are only seeking sanctuary. 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. In the second quarter of 2020 (at the height of co-vid) there were 28 detainees who had been detained for 12-18 months.
Indefinite detention can have a major detrimental impact on individuals 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” file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/Never-Truly-Free-March-2018%20(5).pdf). 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.
Some Tories have argued that unlimited detention is necessary to protect the country against foreign national offenders who are waiting to be deported and “too dangerous” to be released. It is correct that a number of people being detained are foreign nationals who have been convicted of crimes and are then deported. But they have already served a custodial sentence the length of which is based on a risk assessment, and, if a British citizen, could have been released on licence subject to supervision measures. There is a whole series of arguments about why deportation may not be the right action but it also needs to be recognised that some of the most vulnerable people in detention are foreign nationals with serious mental illnesses which may be linked to their offending history.
Write to Your MP Now
These amendments now go back to the House of Commons who have the final say – probably in the week of 19 October. Please write to your MP (particularly if they did not support these amendments last time) and ask them to do the right thing and vote for them. You can find briefing material on https://www.detentionforum.org.uk