Backbench Business — Immigration Detention

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:00 pm on 10th September 2015.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 1:00 pm, 10th September 2015

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in this very important debate. As other hon. Members have done, I commend—as best practice for other all-party groups to follow—the work of the groups that produced the report during the last Parliament. I am grateful for its acknowledgment of my former colleague Sarah Teather’s leadership in this area during her time in the House.

In looking at the scale of this problem, the surveys recently carried out by the Bail for Immigration Detainees group are interesting. During the most recent survey period, 216 people left detention after more than 12 months. It is worth reflecting on the sheer scale of that. My greatest concern is that, ultimately, only 38% of such people were required to leave the country. Therefore, the system is not just inhumane, but inefficient. It is not doing the job that we as taxpayers require it to do.

When I see such figures, I inevitably draw on my own professional experience. Before I entered Parliament, I was a criminal court solicitor, like Mr Burrowes. I started my professional career as a procurator fiscal depute. We worked to very strict timetables in Scotland. Any prosecutor remanding people on such a scale and getting convictions for only 38% of them would have found themselves in some difficulty with their superiors.

It is worth comparing how we treat those detained for immigration purposes with how we treat other people in our community whom we detain in the criminal justice system and the mental heath system. In neither case do we detain people without a time limit or any sort of judicial supervision of their detention. Frankly, if we rightly apply such a standard for our own people, why should the standard be different for those who come here fleeing persecution in other countries?

That brings me to the point about the availability of legal representation that I made in my intervention on Paul Blomfield. I have no doubt that the lack of access to legal representation contributes to making many cases last longer than the 12-month period identified by BID. At the time of the last BID survey, only 50% of people had representation when they were interviewed, and 11% never had any representation. We all know why: these people come from countries with very different legal systems and access to justice is on a very different basis, if indeed there is much state-provided justice at all. In addition, there are the difficulties of language and the mental health problems that inevitably arise, as Dr Cameron said. We can understand the importance of getting proper representation to people in such situations.