Lords vote in favour of 28 day immigration detention time limit

Peers defy ministers in voting for time limit in Immigration Bill


The House of Lords. Image: UK Parliament/Flickr


Ground-breaking vote

The House of Lords on Tuesday voted by 187 to 170 to introduce a statutory 28-day time limit to UK immigration detention.

The UK is currently the only country in the EU with no time limit on the administrative detention of migrants, many of whom are held for months or years without charge in buildings with equivalent security to Category B prisons.

A recent review commissioned by the Home Office and authored by former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Stephen Shaw found there is “too much detention”, and recommended that the government reduce its use of immigration detention “boldly and without delay”.

The 28 day limit does not apply to people who have served a prison sentence of more than 12 months, or where the Secretary of State has decided that the individual must be deported. The limit may be extended in individual cases at the discretion of the courts.


‘Restoring national pride’

The amendment was tabled by former Chief Inspector of Prisons Lord Ramsbotham, who said he proposed it “in the spirit of trying to restore some national pride.” Countering arguments that a time limit is unnecessary and the current system is effective, Lord Ramsbotham said:

“The culture of disbelief that pervades the Home Office, allied to the appalling standard of its casework over the years—witnessed by the staggeringly high number of successful appeals against its decisions—and the appalling quality of its communication with applicants, gives me no confidence that it is capable of carrying out what the Government apparently wish.”

The 28 day time limit was proposed last year by a cross-party group of MPs and peers following their inquiry into the UK’s use of immigration detention. Lord Ramsbotham was a panel member of the inquiry.


Lord Ramsbotham picture

Lord Ramsbotham tabled the time limit amendment. Image: author


Time limit controversy

Government ministers have repeatedly opposed the amendment, arguing that it is primarily foreign criminals and immigration law offenders who spend extended periods of time in immigration detention by choice, abusing the UK’s appeals system to postpone or avoid deportation.

Lord Keen of Elie, the Advocate-General for Scotland, argued that the time limit “would significantly impact on our ability to enforce immigration controls and maintain public safety”.

Some campaigning groups, however, argue that the amendment does not go far enough, as it allows the continued indefinite detention of people who have already served full prison sentences. The activist organisation Right to Remain wrote: “All kinds of people will continue to be excluded from justice if this amendment is the only reform to detention that we see.”

The time limit is highly likely to be contested at the Consideration of Amendments stage of the Immigration Bill’s parliamentary passage, when the bill will return to the House of Commons for approval.

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