My Lords, I support the amendment for all the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in her most eloquent speech. She has left it to me to say something about the law in this area—a somewhat duller subject, I fear. The basic legal principle involved is not in doubt. Executive detention in immigration cases is lawful if—but only if—there is a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable time. That is the principle that was established in the case called Hardial Singh. If that principle does not apply, it is otherwise unlawful.
It may be supposed that the purpose of the amendment is to make indefinite detention unlawful—but it is not, because it already is unlawful. The purpose is quite different; it is to impose a statutory limit on lawful detention, which in this case is proposed at 60 days. The application of the general principle to which I referred is, of course, dependent on the facts of every particular case that comes before a judge. There was a time when it looked as though judges, left to themselves and applying that general principle, would reach a consensus on what should be the maximum period of lawful detention in ordinary cases. If they had, a statutory limit of 60 days would not be required.
Sadly, the most recent cases have shown that that is not going to be the way ahead. I refer to just two. In the Muqtaar case, decided in October 2012, the Court of Appeal dealt with a Somali ex-offender who could not be returned to Somalia. He was nevertheless held for three years and five months before being released. His claim for damages failed. It was held that there could be what was described as a realistic prospect of removal without it being possible to specify the period within which removal would reasonably be expected to occur. I find that pretty difficult to follow, but on any view it seems to deprive the principle to which I have referred of any real effect.
Another case was Francis, decided in July 2013. The claimant in that case was convicted of using a false British passport. He was recommended for deportation and was then detained for three years and nine months. At the hearing, the Secretary of State argued that the court’s recommendation created what was called a “statutory warrant for detention”.
The judge accepted that argument—otherwise, he said, he would have awarded substantial damages. I am not sure what the Secretary of State’s argument really meant but, happily, that case is going to the Court of Appeal and I hope that we will know what the position is.
I cite these cases because they have led me, with great reluctance, to the view that we cannot now look to the judges alone to arrive at a maximum period of detention in immigration cases. It is for that reason that I support a statutory maximum, as proposed in this amendment, for I am in no doubt at all that a maximum is required. No doubt some would like a maximum longer than 60 days and others a maximum shorter than 60 days. However, the existence of a statutory maximum is in my view essential to prevent detention in these immigration cases becoming in practice indefinite—or, at any rate, seeming to be indefinite—with all the suffering and misery that that involves.
The arguments in favour of a statutory maximum are set out in the report of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law in its safeguarding principle 17 at pages 82 to 87, and in the very excellent briefing provided by Detention Action. The arguments advanced there seem to me completely convincing and it would serve no purpose to repeat or summarise them. Therefore, I will add just two footnotes. Last week, as it happens, we debated a different form of indefinite detention—indeterminate sentences for the protection of the public, or IPPs. They were abolished by Parliament in 2012 because the consequences of the IPP system were so unjust. In the case of IPP, the detainees had all, of course, been convicted of a serious offence and were deemed to be dangerous. One may therefore ask how much more unjust is this detention in the case of would-be immigrants who have committed no offence at all?
Secondly, I have spent many hours wearying the House on the injustice of control orders, as your Lordships will remember. We were always told, in those days, that there was no alternative to control orders for these dangerous men who could not be convicted in the ordinary way. I was therefore very pleased when control orders came to an end and TPIMs were substituted, in particular because Parliament imposed a statutory limit of two years. Last week, the last of the TPIMs lapsed and, so far as I know, there was no immediate protest from the Home Secretary. That leads me to think that control orders and TPIMs were never really as necessary as people said and that, somehow or other, the Home Office has found another way around. I suggest that exactly the same will happen if we impose a statutory limit of 60 days on this form of detention. If necessary, the Home Office will always find some other way of dealing with the problem. For that reason, I shall vote for this amendment and hope that the House will do so, too.