Examination of Witnesses

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 14th February 2019.

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Bella Sankey:

I understand that it has been suggested that a detention time limit amendment could exclude people with convictions. I have explained many of the reasons why, in our view, that is not a sensible thing to do. There is an additional point that is highly relevant. An amendment that sought to exclude people who have served custodial sentences of a certain length—for example, at least 12 months—would be contrary to EU law, and so it would likely be found unlawful. I do not think that is a recommended course of action. As I have just indicated, there are severe drawbacks to excluding a category of people who often have the most acute vulnerabilities, including asylum seekers who have convictions for document offences, people who have convictions because of extreme destitution and so on.

As I referenced earlier, people who have received criminal convictions and custodial sentences serve time in prison. The explicit objective is to provide deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation. As you will know, our criminal justice system has been designed and equipped so that if people who have committed serious offences are released from prison, they are subject to a regime of licence, probation and initial management in the community in order to ensure public safety.

With our current system, people with convictions are often immediately sent straight to immigration detention after their custodial sentence finishes. They might spend their entire period of licence in detention, only to be released back into the community. It is important for the Committee to acknowledge that over half of people who are detained are ultimately released back into the community, which means that some people who have committed more serious offences are not given the proper support, supervision and monitoring that might be necessary to ensure public safety.

Immigration detention currently creates a kind of parallel system that essentially removes people from the criminal justice system and its safeguards.