The Work of the UK Border Agency (April--June 2012) - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Focus: Immigration detention

4. We are concerned about a number of issues coming to light in regards to immigration detention—in particular the treatment of detainees suffering from mental illness at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre and the continued detention of children for immigration purposes, albeit for a short length of time.

Treatment of detainees suffering from mental illness

5. The annual report from the Independent Monitoring Board at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre highlighted a significant number of failings in regard to the treatment of detainees suffering from mental illness. A number of court cases have also recently been brought against the Agency by some of the individuals affected.

Legal cases brought against the Agency

6. Since 2011 the High Court has found in favour of four individuals (known as S, BA, HA and D) who have brought cases against the Agency. The court found inter alia that the defendants had been falsely imprisoned and subject to inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of their Article 3 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government is currently appealing against one of the judgments (HA v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 979).

7. The claimants S and BA were both ex-foreign national offenders and BA was liable for deportation upon release from prison. They filed claims for asylum in the UK and were placed in immigration detention whilst their claims were considered by the Agency.

8. The court found that both S and BA were detained despite a clear and documented history of mental illness and against the advice of mental health professionals. It also found that they had suffered serious deterioration in mental state and, in the case of BA, physical health as a result of their detention.

9. In the case of S the court also found that the Agency did not respond to assessments made by a psychiatrist that he was unfit for detention and required urgent compulsory treatment in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983.

10. In the case of BA the court found that the Agency had failed to make arrangements for his transfer to hospital after he has been assessed by medical staff as requiring urgent transfer to hospital under the Mental Health Act. It also found that Agency staff had failed to communicate information about BA's deteriorating condition to senior officials responsible for deciding whether he should be released.

11. The claimant HA, who has paranoid schizophrenia, is also a former foreign national offender who was liable for deportation on release. Upon completion of his sentence he was held in immigration detention whilst the Agency assessed his claim for asylum. The court found that whilst in detention HA had not received appropriate medical treatment for a period of over 5 months and that after time spent in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983 he had been returned to immigration detention, in Harmondsworth, after the Agency had been explicitly warned by a psychiatrist that Harmondsworth did not have the medical facilities to treat him.[3]

12. Claimant D, whose case was decided at the end of August, had been granted temporary admission to the UK after serving a six month jail sentence. He was then detained under immigration powers for 15 months while the Agency tried to deport him. The court found that he had suffered treatment which "intruded on his human dignity" and "constituted inhuman treatment within Article 3 of the ECHR whilst in detention at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook House". The court ruled that he had been denied proper psychiatric treatment which had exacerbated his mental suffering. His treatment was found to be:

'premeditated', not in the sense of any subjective intention to damage D's mental health, but rather in the sense that those with responsibility for the well-being of detainees in the two institutions knew that D had a history of mental illness and persisted in a medical regime for him which involved neglect (particularly in relation to the taking of anti-psychotic medication and denial of access to a psychiatrist) and recourse to what were in effect disciplinary sanctions under rules 40 and 42 which were unsuitable for a person with his condition.[4]

13. We are concerned at the findings the court has made about the treatment of the individuals in question. All of those held pending deportation, including ex-foreign national offenders, should be held in appropriate accommodation. If medical practitioners have advised that detainees should be accommodated in hospital or other institutions that care for the mentally ill then that guidance should be acted upon by the Agency and not ignored.

14. Mr Whiteman told us that the Agency had apologised to claimants S and BA for their treatment. However, the claimants' solicitor has contacted us to say that they had not received an apology.[5] This is a serious matter, in which the Agency has agreed to pay damages for violating the claimants' human rights and we believe it is essential that the Agency should apologise. We recommend that Mr Whiteman write a letter of apology to the claimants concerned, setting out the steps the Agency has taken and is taking to ensure that incidents such as these ones will not reoccur.

15. We are concerned that the cases outlined above may not be isolated incidents but may reflect more systemic failures in relation to the treatment of mentally ill immigration detainees.

Provision of mental healthcare at Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre

16. The Independent Monitoring Board of Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre (the Board) published its annual report in March this year, the provision of healthcare and mental healthcare at Harmondsworth has been a major concern for the Board since 2009.[6] As well as commenting on the experience of some of the detainees mentioned above the report highlighted two systemic issues with the provision of treatment for mentally ill detainees.

17. First, Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules requires healthcare managers to report to the Agency any detainee "whose health is likely to be injuriously affected by detention or any condition of detention" and any detainee they are concerned may have been a victim of torture. These reports are made on the advice of a doctor. There were 109 of these reports made to the Agency concerning detainees at Harmondsworth in 2011 but only five resulted in the detainee being released. The Board said it was

"constantly surprised and seriously concerned by cases where a decision by a doctor that a person is unfit for detention is overruled by case owners".[7]

18. Second, the report found there to be a lack of appropriate accommodation for detainees suffering from mental illness and that a number of them had been moved backwards and forwards between a healthcare ward and segregated accommodation. The Board found this to be major cause of distress for the detainees concerned.[8]

19. In his evidence to us Mr Whiteman said that the all individuals going into detention were given a medical screening within 48 hours and that, if they were found to be medically unfit for detention, they were transferred to appropriate care.

If people are deemed not fit for detention then we will release people from detention... In particular, of course, we screen for mental health issues, and if the detention screening believes that there are mental health issues, we will refer those to the local mental health services, who can take appropriate action to take people into NHS care or otherwise.[9]

20. Mr Whiteman said that the Agency's mental health screening "works on a large number of occasions".[10] However this does not correspond with the findings of the Independent Monitoring Board at Harmondsworth which found that although detainees were being identified as being medically unfit for detention under Rule 35 the Agency was not transferring them into appropriate medical care. We are not convinced that the findings highlighted by the Board demonstrate a system which works in the majority of cases at Harmondsworth. This is of considerable concern as Harmondsworth is the largest immigration removal centre in the country with the capacity to hold up to 615 men.[11] The Agency must inform us how many individuals the 109 Rule 35 reports relate to and why medical advice was overruled on so many occasions.

21. We are pleased to hear from Mr Whiteman that the Agency is reviewing its mental health screening processes in individual cases where it has been criticised for not being effective.[12] However we do not believe that this goes far enough. We recommend the Agency immediately carry out an independent review of the application of Rule 35 at Harmondsworth and at its other immigration removal centres across the country.

22. This is in-keeping with the undertaking given by the Director of the Agency's Returns Directorate, Alan Kittle who stated that the Home Secretary was committed to carrying out a formal Equality Impact Assessment of the detention under immigration powers of those suffering from mental illness. The statement was made on the 23 March 2012 and committed Mr Kittle to ensuring the assessment was commenced within seven days of the statement being signed.[13] However, the Home Office has since announced that it would reconsider its position for the following reasons:

The commitment to carry out the Equality Impact Assessment was given in the course of legal proceedings. In light of the findings in those legal proceedings, and having taken further legal advice, we are now challenging the Court's judgement and reconsidering our position in relation to the Equality Impact Assessment.[14]

We welcomed this commitment by the Agency and we are disappointed that the Home Office is now reconsidering its commitment.

Child Detention


23. In the Coalition Agreement the Government committed to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. The number of children in immigration detention has fallen substantially since 2009-2010, when over 200 children were entering immigration detention every quarter, and being held for many weeks or months. However there has been a small but steady increase in the number of children entering immigration detention since the first quarter of 2011. This has continued in the first and second quarter of 2012. We do however note that the vast majority of these are held for less than three days.[15]
The number of children in immigration detention Q1 and Q2 2012[16]
Q1 2012
Q2 2012
Children entering detention
Held less than 3 days
Held 4 to 7 days
Held 8 to 14 days
Held 15 to 28 days
Held 29 days to 2 months

*These are all exceptional age dispute cases in which the individual was initially assessed as being over 18 or claimed to be under 18 after release.

24. We welcome the large decrease in the number of children held in immigration detention since March 2010. However we are concerned that the numbers held are starting to increase again, albeit on a much smaller scale. There are three main situations in which children are placed in immigration detention: at the border on trying to enter the country with no valid visa, while awaiting departure; if the Agency disputes that they are in fact a minor (age-related disputes); and immediately prior to removal from the UK after previous attempts have failed. We recommend that the Agency publish a breakdown of the number of children entering immigration detention by the reason for their detention. This will enable policy-makers to see the extent of the issue at different points in the immigration process and to investigate how to further reduce numbers.


25. We acknowledge that the accommodation in which children and families are held before departure from the UK has improved greatly with the opening of Cedars Pre-Departure Accommodation in August 2011.[17]

26. HM Inspector of Prisons carried out an inspection of Cedars Pre-Departure Accommodation in May this year. Its report concluded that families received 'exceptional' care from staff and that they felt welcomed and safe in the centre. The report also praised the child-centred culture at the centre, with staff receiving suitable training on the safeguarding and management of children. Parents interviewed as part of the report said that they would prefer to be held at Cedars rather than immediately removed, partly to enable them to apply for a judicial review but also because it helped them to prepare their families for removal.[18] This is backed up by the annual report of the Independent Family Returns Panel for 2011-12, which praised Cedars for providing an environment which helped families to prepare for their return and recommended that more families would benefit from a short stay there to help children come to terms with their departure.[19]

27. However the inspection also flagged up concerns around the use of force at the point of removal. Force had been used against six of the 39 families who went through Cedars over the inspection period. The report highlighted that any force used had usually been minimal but, on one occasion, unapproved techniques had been used on a pregnant woman, posing a risk to her unborn child.[20]

28. We welcome the considerable achievements of staff at Cedars in providing a supportive, child centred environment for families going through the distressing process of removal, and recommend that this best practice is shared at any other centres where children are held. We share the concerns of HM Inspector of Prisons however about the use of force on children and pregnant women. We reiterate the conclusion of the inspection report that force should never be used to effect the removal of pregnant women or children and only ever used in relation to either to prevent harm. We recommend that all staff should receive immediate training on how to manage children and vulnerable adults who become violent. Current training on the use of force against detainees should be reviewed to make sure staff understand clearly what restraints are permitted, the situations in which they are permitted and against whom they can be used.

3   Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, Letter to the Home Secretary, 8 August 2012, R (S) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] EWHC 2120 , R (BA) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] EWHC 2748, R (HA) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 979 Back

4   D v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2501 Back

5   Q40 Back

6   Independent Monitoring Board, Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, Annual report 2011, p11 Back

7   Ibid p7,13 Back

8   Ibid Back

9   Q37 Back

10   Q40 Back

11   Independent Monitoring Board, Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre, Annual report 2011, p3 Back

12   Q37 Back

13   R (HA) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 979, First Witness Statement of Alan Kittle Back

14   HC Deb, 7 September 2012, col 491W Back

15   Home Office Website: Back

16   Figures may include individuals detained more than once in the period. Source: Ev 23, para 76 Back

17   Independent Family Returns Panel, Annual Report, 2011-2012, p10 Back

18   HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Report on an announced inspection of Cedars Pre-Departure Accommodation, 30 April-25 May 2012, p5 and p12-13 Back

19   Independent Family Returns Panel, Annual Report, 2011-2012, p10 Back

20   HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Report on an announced inspection of Cedars Pre-Departure Accommodation, 30 April-25 May 2012, p12 Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 9 November 2012