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Lord Hylton: The Minister has pointed out that the existing voluntary organisations are somewhat stretched in their capacity to deal with all the casework. Would he therefore consider whether Asylum Aid might be a suitable organisation to add to the list? I have no personal connection with the organisation. It was not established directly or indirectly by a government and, as far as I know, it does not receive a large government grant at the moment. On the other hand, it has a good track record in dealing with cases of asylum seekers who have received an initial refusal.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am happy to look into the detail of that, but I must repeat that it is the present organisations which have the Section 23 funding that we shall consider in closer detail.

Viscount Bridgeman: I thank the Minister for his most helpful reply to Amendment No. 97.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I also thank the Minister for his kind reply. Will he bear in mind the case of Amuur v. France, which we are advised raises the issues of legal aid on ECHR Article 5 cases? I believe that the judgment in that case held that a legal regime covering detention carried with it the right to consideration on grounds of arbitrariness. That point was not directly caught by the Minister's reference to criminal proceedings. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 67A not moved.]

Clause 36 [Bail hearings for detained persons]:

Lord Hylton moved Amendment No. 68:

Page 26, line 27, at end insert (", and
("(b) review on a monthly basis the case of any detained person not granted bail at a hearing under this section").

The noble Lord said: I preface my remarks on the amendment by pointing out that we are discussing the interests of innocent people who have not been charged with any offence or crime in this country. They are being detained purely for administrative convenience while their cases are given proper consideration. There is some evidence that in the past certain cases may-- I put it no more strongly than that--have been forgotten,

19 Jul 1999 : Column 703

while the people in question remained in detention. I say that despite the slightly glib phrases that tend to roll off the Home Office's word processors. The costs of detaining those people, as I mentioned earlier, are heavy and there is every reason to keep down the numbers to the irreducible minimum.

The purpose of Amendment No. 68 is to ensure that cases do not get forgotten, because they would be regularly reviewed by a court. I trust that the amendment will concentrate the minds of the authorities. I would expect magistrates and adjudicators to demand new reasons for each extension of detention and not to be satisfied with bland repetitions of the same formula.

If monthly reviews are too frequent, it might be reasonable to specify five or six weeks, but the interval between reviews should not be longer. Administration reviews within the Immigration and Nationality Directorate have been shown to be inadequate safeguards by themselves. I beg to move.

Lord Dholakia: I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. It would have the effect of extending routine bail hearings so that they lasted throughout the period of detention, as opposed to just the first month. A number of immigrant advisory services strongly support the extension beyond the first six months.

In a letter of 9th July, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, suggested that no useful purpose would be served by such an extension of routine bail hearings. I do not think that this is correct. First, he indicated in the same letter that he does not intend to make legal aid available for representation at bail hearings, and free representation can be provided under Clause 45 only for routine bail hearings. After the first month, only those detainees who can pay for representation are in any position to challenge their detention. It should also be remembered that not all detainees have legal representatives and that some representatives fail to make applications for bail, which involve a considerable amount of preparatory work.

The question of appropriateness of detention will also become an issue the longer a person is detained. A magistrate may consider it reasonable to hold someone for a short time to check documents but not to hold him for months.

The length of time in detention may also exacerbate the effect on the detainee's mental health or lead to those effects becoming more pronounced. The White Paper stated that mental and physical health should be a consideration in deciding whether or not to detain. The state of health may change over the period in detention and if health deteriorates, that may lead the magistrate or adjudicator to take a different view as to whether or not detention is appropriate.

As drafted, the Bill allows for only two routine bail hearings. The effect of the amendment is to ensure that the routine bail hearings continue at monthly intervals, although those detainees with representatives may apply for bail at any time but those without good representation may remain in detention.

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Given that the figure of six months for completion of consideration of an asylum claim and all appeals is an average and that detainees are prioritised, it is likely that there will be only one or two further routine bail hearings. It is also an incentive for the Home Office to ensure that the cases of detainees are dealt with quickly.

6 p.m.

Viscount Brentford: The principle underlying the amendments seems to me to be admirable. What is the Home Office principle on reviewing cases of detention? It seems to me absolutely right that they should be reviewed every month and that representation should be available when the asylum seeker attends any such hearing.

I do not expect the Home Office to like that because additional costs will be involved. But it seems to be that it is well worth while to embody that principle in the law. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what is the present Home Office attitude and what is its practice in that regard.

Viscount Bridgeman: In supporting the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, perhaps I may deal also with Amendments Nos. 70 and 75 which have been suggested by the Law Society of Scotland and achieve the same ends.

Amendment No. 70 ensures that those persons detained under immigration and asylum legislation are treated no less favourably than those accused of a crime in Scotland. There is a provision in Scots law for an accused person who is remanded in custody on a criminal matter to be brought before a court on the next lawful day. This amendment would bring the terms of the Bill into line with those criminal provisions.

Amendment No. 75 will ensure that the detained persons are brought before a court to make a bail application on the day following their detention. Both the amendments together ensure that a person is not deprived of his liberty without recourse to the courts as soon as is reasonably practical.

The purpose of Amendments Nos. 77A and 77B is to provide sufficient safeguards for immigration detainees. Those two basic amendments would enhance their rights without doing any harm to the scheme of immigration control. They would also serve to make the introduction of statutory bail hearings a meaningful rather than a cosmetic change in the law. Those two amendments simply serve to emphasise the Secretary of State's accountability in ensuring that routine bail hearings take place within the stated time constraints. Since there is no penalty for failure to act within those time constraints, it would be fairer--and seen to be fairer--for the courts to be permitted to take into consideration any undue delays when deciding whether to grant bail. They are designed to be more specific about the Secretary of State's duties under Clause 36(11) to notify the courts in cases of undue delay.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I support Amendment No. 68, moved by my noble friend Lord Hylton, and Amendments Nos. 70 to 77, 77A and 77B to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, has just referred.

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In supporting these amendments, I wish to draw to the Minister's attention a letter which I received today from Mr N J P Bond of Barking in Essex and evidence which he drew up for the Special Standing Committee for the Bill when it was being considered in another place.

He has given me specific examples of people suffering in detention and the problems that they have been caused because of, in part, the delays which they have experienced. Before I turn to those examples, perhaps I may quote from his covering letter which states:

    "Whereas great caution is to be used before detaining paedophiles and people with personality disorders, before they have committed an offence, it seems that children and torture victims can be detained for merely seeking refuge in this country with very few if any effective safeguards or restrictions".

In the series of six suggestions that he makes for improvement to the legislation, at point 4 he says:

    "Detainees should be told what the maximum duration of their detention will be".

Falling short of that, the amendment in the name of my noble friend at least gives us the opportunity to review on a regular basis those cases which are not dealt with expeditiously.

In case any of us should be under any misunderstanding about the appalling situation in which some detainees find themselves, the three examples which my correspondent, Mr Bond, draws to my attention describe far more eloquently than I could the circumstances in which people find themselves. Mr Bond is a computer programmer who spent 18 months visiting both DA and JA blocks of Harmondsworth Immigration Detention Centre on most Tuesday evenings, as part of a voluntary group, from May 1997 to November 1998. Therefore, this is not hearsay and anecdotal examples; they are his personal experiences.

He says:

    "V.S. was detained in JA block, before being transferred to DA block, before a final period at Campsfield, before being released. His detention lasted for 18 months. He had been struck across the nose and over his left eye, with a gun, leaving a scar along a line approximately 30 degrees above the horizontal. He had cigarette burns on his arms and said that he had been tortured in other ways that he did not wish to talk about. He started as one of the more outgoing detainees, but over the months you could see his soul bleeding to death almost to the last drop before your very eyes. Eventually he was released and I believe he has been allowed to stay in this country".

The second case referred to by my correspondent concerns A.B. He writes:

    "A.B. was a giant of a man, reduced to a kind of shuffling about like a baited bear. He had asked for asylum at the airport and had been immediately detained in Rochester Prison for 3 weeks where he had no visitors. Shortly arriving in JA block at Harmondsworth, he wandered into the visitors room. I approached him and said that I was part of a visiting group. He said 'Please could somebody visit me?'. He had been tortured. We discovered that we were both Christians. He asked if I could bring him a bible, which I did the next week, but he had been taken somewhere else. Nobody seemed to know where".

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The third example concerns someone called I.U. in JA block who had twice been tortured in detention. The letter states:

    "When I met him he had just attempted suicide. He had a white bandage on his left fore-arm. He told me how he feared for his life if returned to his own country. He said that I was the first person in this country to have shown him any courtesy or respect and he thanked me warmly. He showed me his papers from immigration service ...One of the papers declared that he was extremely unlikely to be a genuine refugee as (a) he came from a designated list country (white list) and (b) he arrived with a false passport. The following week he had been deported".

Those cases graphically illustrate the force of not only this amendment but also the amendments standing in the names of other Members of the Committee. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will recognise the force of the arguments which I place before him on behalf of my correspondent and the force of the argument that detainees are treated worse than criminals because they have no idea for how long they will be held. Many detainees complain that the uncertainty is like mental torture. Even a high maximum duration would be better than none. The amendment goes some way towards dealing with that question.

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