Interception in immigration detention facilities

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 14 April 2016.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs) 2:00, 14 April 2016

That does not really give me the assurance I seek. I was going to say that, under the clause, conduct is to be authorised if it is done in the exercise of any power conferred by or under the detention centre rules, or the rules for short-term holding facilities and pre-departure accommodation made under sections 157 and 157A of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 respectively. The latter sets of rules do not actually exist. Rules governing the regulation and management of short-term holding facilities were made in 2002, but it took until 2006 for draft rules to appear covering similar ground for short-term holding facilities as the detention centre rules do for immigration removal centres.

Back in 2006 the Home Office consulted on draft rules, to which various persons responded. In 2009 the Home Office consulted on another draft of the rules, to which there were further responses, many of them adverse; a number of freedom of information requests and parliamentary questions followed. In April 2012 the rules were described by the then Minister, Damian Green, as being “still under development”.

In March 2014, during the passage of the most recent immigration Bill, which became the Immigration Act 2014, Lord Taylor of Holbeach gave a commitment to Lord Avebury, who had been chasing the rules since 2006, that

“rules governing the management and operation of short-term holding facilities and the Cedars pre-departure accommodation will be introduced before the Summer Recess.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 March 2014; Vol. 752, c. 1140.]

Lord Avebury was informed before the recess that the commitment would not be met. He continued to pursue the matter, and draft rules were finally published on 18 February this year, almost a decade after the first draft was published and some 14 years after they were envisaged. That wait does not appear to have produced a version markedly different from earlier versions or particularly tailored to short-term facilities. In those circumstances, it is very far from clear what powers are being given by the current Bill. That shall be the gravamen of my exception to the clause.

In his review of immigration detention, Sir Stephen Shaw paid special attention to the problems of short-term holding facilities and the dreadful conditions in some of them. We have all heard about that on the Floor of the House. His concerns led him to recommend that a discussion draft of the short-term holding facility rules should be published as a matter of urgency. In the meantime, after he had said that, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons published a damning report on one particular facility, the Longport freight shed in Dover, describing the dire state of the facilities there. He said:

“on various occasions Home Office staff told us that they did not consider Longport to be a place of detention…despite detainees being in possession of legal authority to detain documentation and obviously being unable to leave. At this facility, the normal mechanisms of internal oversight and accountability that should apply to any form of detention were lacking.”

Under such circumstances, the notion of any lawful exercise of the powers contained in clause 44 seems fanciful.

There are also problems with immigration removal centres. The latest version of the detention centre rules dates from 2001. They were last amended in 2005 to update the name of the tribunal hearing immigration cases and bail applications, but by the time that was done the name itself was out of date because it had already been replaced by the immigration and asylum chamber of the first-tier and upper tribunals. The rules contain a broad range of powers from powers to fingerprint individuals and powers of search, to powers to identify survivors of torture or persons with a mental or physical illness; powers on medical information and notification of illness and death; powers to segregate and use force, and powers to carry out compulsory tests for drugs. There are also rules regarding visitors to centres and contractors.

My point is that the rules cover the sorts of matters that would be covered by prison rules but they apply to a different regime and to people who have not been detained by the courts or by due process of law. The overall effect is a lack of clarity. When one is working against the background of rules that do not exist or, if they do exist, lack clarity, a clause such as clause 44 potentially has a very far-reaching impact on people whose civil liberties are already severely undermined by the circumstances of their detention. The Government do not need to take just my word for that; it is a view widely held, including by a number of Government Back Benchers and peers.