Time limit on detention for EEA and Swiss nationals

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 10:15 am, 5th March 2019

I will come to that point shortly. There was an example that I wanted to use to demonstrate to Members some of the challenges faced, including the many claims for asylum made by people who had opportunities to raise those issues earlier, with some even claiming asylum on the steps of a plane. I will illustrate our concerns with reference to a case study provided to the Joint Committee on Human Rights in December. In that case, a failed asylum seeker absconded for nine years before re-establishing contact with the Home Office and lodging a new claim. This was unsuccessful, as were all the subsequent appeals and further submissions. The individual was detained after having been encountered working illegally. He then disrupted attempts to effect removal by refusing to leave the centre until removal was eventually achieved. It took 54 days to remove the individual from the point of detention, which would not have been possible had the time limits enshrined in these new clauses been in place.

Moving on to the further details of the new clauses and the point raised by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, the requirement for the judiciary to be involved in consideration of the case at or around the 96-hour point of detention would place significant additional burdens on the tribunal service. As it stands, bail cases are normally listed within three to six days. That means that a significant number of cases would fall outside the 96-hour period, and that is without taking into account the fact that there would be a dramatic increase in the number of cases being referred to the tribunal.

Such an increase would make the system unsustainable without significant reform, which could not be achieved within the three months before commencement proposed by new clause 4. However, the proposal would also require a different type of decision by judges, which would need careful consideration by the judiciary, given their independence.

We should not forget that detainees can apply for bail at any time of their choosing. Automatic referral for bail occurs at the four-month stage, and we are currently piloting automatic referral at two months. These bail hearings are supplemented by regular reviews and by case progression panels for those held in detention beyond three months. The new clauses would allow for an individual to be detained beyond the outcome of the initial bail hearing, though only for a maximum of 28 days in total, and only in very exceptional circumstances. These circumstances are not defined. I ask the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton to consider whether he has in mind individuals seeking to frustrate the removals process. If so, what activity is regarded as frustrating the removal process, or does he have in mind individuals who are criminals? If so, how serious would the criminality have to be to justify continued detention? These matters are not clear, but they are fundamental to managing a detention system.

On the subject of criminality, let us assume that foreign criminals are intended to be included in the category of “very exceptional” circumstances, for the moment. The provision would allow the Government to detain such individuals for up to 28 days. At that point there would be no option other than release. No exceptions for dangerous criminals are built into the provision. If we could not deport individuals within 28 days, they would be released on to the streets, even if they presented a danger to the public.

The Government are under a statutory duty to deport foreign national criminals under the UK Borders Act 2007, and this duty would be seriously undermined if detention could not be used to effect removal. The same sort of issues would apply in respect of national security cases. The new clauses provide that an individual cannot be re-detained once the 28-day time limit has been reached unless there is a material change in their circumstances. What constitutes a material change is not defined. Again, these are serious matters on which the new clauses are not clear. For example, would it be possible to re-detain an individual who had been deported from the UK, but had re-entered in breach of the deportation order?

Would the failure of the person to comply with reporting requirements, or a breach of bail conditions, amount to “very exceptional’ circumstances? Finally, the three-month implementation timescale enshrined in new clause 4 is likely to be unworkable given the extensive changes to the immigration and judicial systems necessary to implement the envisaged changes.

The Government are of the view that the new clauses would significantly impair the UK’s ability to proportionately and efficiently remove from the UK individuals who have no right to be here and who, in some cases, represent a danger to the public.