Lords and MPs reach compromise on “Detention Reform” Immigration Bill

72 hour time limit for pregnant women and automatic bail hearings to become law



Credit: Joe Gratz, Flickr


People detained in the UK’s Immigration Removal Centres will receive automatic bail hearings after four months of detention and pregnant women will normally be released after no more than 72 hours, once the UK’s immigration bill passes into law. The bill has left Parliament and is expected to receive Royal Assent in the next few days.

Lord and MPs had hotly contested changes to the bill throughout its Consideration of Amendments or “Ping Pong” stage, in which a bill passes back and forth between the Houses of Commons and Lords until agreement is reached.


“Unexpected” Detention Reform

The Immigration Bill, which is primarily designed to create tougher conditions for undocumented migrants, was “unexpectedly transformed into a detention reform bill” as a result of the Lords’ amendments, according to the anti-detention NGO network The Detention Forum.

The key amendments under consideration were “Dubs Amendment” 87, which petitioned for the UK to take in 3,000 child refugees; Lord Ramsbotham’s Amendment 84, which proposed a 28 day time limit on immigration detention subject to extension only by the courts; and Amendment 85, which called for pregnant women to be kept out of immigration detention altogether.

The final versions of the amendments passed yesterday were the result of significant compromise. The government did not accept the amendments in their original form, but agreed to accept an unspecified number of child refugees; to provide automatic bail hearings for people detained for four months; and to impose a 72 hour time limit on detention of pregnant women which can be extended by up to a week with the approval of the Secretary of State..


Limited victory

In a last impassioned speech given shortly before the bill was finalised, Lord Ramsbotham argued that the government’s proposals would keep in place a detention system which is “appalling” and “not fit for purpose”. Lord Ramsbotham said:

“Four months is far too long for anyone to be condemned to remain in such conditions, certainly when it seems to be primarily for the convenience of incompetent officials and is not sanctioned by a court of law.”

He called upon the Home Secretary to reconsider his amendment “before she wilfully damages our global reputation for being a civilised nation by going ahead with her alternative to limiting detention to 28 days.”

Detention campaigners have greeted the bill with muted enthusiasm, welcoming it as an important development in detention policy but pointing out that the UK remains the only country in the EU without a time limit on administrative immigration detention.

The date for Royal Assent has not yet been set, but it is expected to take place within the next few days.

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