Unlike those held in Immigration Removal Centres (IRC’s), immigration detainees in prison are not permitted a mobile phone or internet access and face significant obstacles accessing lawyers, charities, and Home Office caseworkers.
And if that isn’t bad enough, immigration detainees in prison are also denied the basic safeguards afforded to those in IRC’s. The safeguards, found in the Detention Centre Rules are crucial in preventing vulnerable people from being held in detention.
Rule 35 is especially important. Under this rule, doctors are required to assess whether a detainee is particularly vulnerable in detention, and to send a report of the assessment to the Home Office. The doctors look especially at special illnesses and conditions, including mental health issues as well as a history of torture, sexual abuse or trafficking. These reports can either result in the Home Office taking the initiative to release the individual, or can help lawyers obtain both release and compensation on the basis that they were unlawfully detained.
The problem is, Detention Centre Rules are just that, for those in detention centres, and they do not apply to those being held under immigration powers in prison. There, only the Prison Rules apply, even if you are being held under immigration powers.
Do the Prisons Rules have any safeguards like Rule 35? The simple answer is no. Prison Rule 21 requires the prison governor to report to the Secretary of State for Justice about any ‘prisoner whose health is likely to be injuriously affected by continued imprisonment or any conditions of imprisonment.’ But Rule 21 does not explicitly apply to torture victims or those with suicidal intentions, nor is there any obligation on the governor to report to the Home Office.
This is obviously unfair and unreasonable. There is no reason to think that detainees vulnerable to suffer harm as a result of detention in an IRC would not suffer the same level of harm in a prison.
We at Duncan Lewis Solicitors are not alone in thinking this. In November 2015, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) recommended that:
‘The Prison Rules should be amended to afford immigration detainees the same protections of Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules.’
This was echoed a few months later in January 2016 by a civil servant, Stephen Shaw, when he was asked by the Home Office to write a report about detention. But the Home Office has ignored these recommendations from senior officials. This different treatment makes no sense and needs to be challenged.
According to figures gathered by AVID through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, there have been between 450 and 550 people held in prison at any one time over the last two years under immigration powers, that is around 15-20% of the detained population. It is impossible to know how many of these would have been released if they had been held in an IRC, because they are not afforded the same safeguards. We believe that every single woman and man unlawfully detained is an outrage.
The Public Law Team at Duncan Lewis Solicitors specialise in fearlessly challenging unlawful detention. If you are being held in a prison under immigration powers, and being detained is affecting your physical or mental health, please get in touch with us and we will do our best to assist you.
Sulaiha Ali: 0203 114 1163 email@example.com
Philip Armitage: 02031141219 firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more about our services concerning Immigration Detention matters here.
Author Patrick Page is a Senior Caseworker in the Immigration and Public Law departments at Duncan Lewis.