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:

Could I just add to that question? You asked why the system is not robust enough. The main reason for that at the moment is that there is not a proper independent check on it. In other areas where we allow the state to deprive people of liberty, we always ensure that there is an independent check on the decision to do so. Take the criminal justice system, for example. A suspect cannot be held for longer than 96 hours and not without being charged. Within that 96-hour period, a magistrate’s approval is required for incremental extensions to somebody’s detention. At the moment, in our immigration system there is nothing comparable to that. There are bail hearings that have recently been introduced at the four-month stage, but four months is already an extraordinarily long time, particularly for vulnerable people.

To give a quick, illustrative example, earlier this week, the Minister’s Department conceded that it had been unlawfully detaining an incredibly vulnerable Chinese victim of trafficking for six months. This woman was picked up at a brothel after a tip-off from a member of the public that there was a woman there who seemed like she did not want to be there. When she was found, there were all the indicators you might expect for a trafficking victim. She had no passport, she was worried about being in debt to other people, and she had no friends or family in the UK. But instead of being treated as a victim of potential modern-day slavery and trafficking, she was taken to a detention centre and held for six months. She exhibited signs of extreme distress. She had psychotic episodes. She was walking around in her underwear and screaming, and talking about being burned by a man with hot water.

Despite all of the internal safeguards that are apparently in place, that woman was not released for six months. The Home Office has now conceded unlawful detention. These sorts of cases are happening all the time. I can assure the Committee that there will be people in detention right now in that same situation. That will continue unless there is a statutory end date that will force the Home Office to comply with its own policy and guidance.