The Home Office has come under fire after it emerged that fewer than half of immigration detainees depart the country when they leave detention.
In a scathing report, the Commons Home Affairs Committee accused the department of showing a “shockingly cavalier” attitude when deciding whether to remove a person’s liberty.
MPs suggested there were questions over whether powers to hold foreign nationals were being used appropriately.
Official figures show 25,487 individuals left the detention estate in 2018.
Of those, 11,152, or 44%, were returned from the UK to another country – down from 47% in the previous year.
Nearly 14,000 detainees (55%) were released on bail, 47 were granted leave to enter or remain, and 343 were logged in the “other” category which covers a range of cases such as returns to criminal detention, deaths, unconditional releases and absconds.
The committee’s report said it was concerned that “more than half of the people being detained in the year to December 2018 were simply released again, raising important questions over whether the power to detain is being used appropriately”, adding: “The power to detain is a necessary one, but should be used only if there are no other options, as a last resort prior to removal.”
The Government has powers to detain people for reasons of immigration control.
Individuals can be held in removal centres or short-term holding facilities while they wait for permission to enter the UK, or before they are deported or removed.
The committee said its inquiry had found “serious failings” in almost every area of the process.
“Immigration officials who are tasked with detaining and removing people from the UK face making difficult decisions on a daily basis,” the report said.
“But too often the Home Office has shown a shockingly cavalier attitude to the deprivation of human liberty and the protection of people’s basic rights.”
The wide-ranging assessment said:
– Casework inefficiencies are unnecessarily prolonging people’s detention, with some held for more than three years;
– At the end of December, foreign national offenders who had completed custodial sentences made up around half (53%) of the detained population;
– The latest statistics show a decrease in the number of people being detained, which the committee welcomed;
– Policies which should prevent unlawful detention are “regularly flouted”, with over £20 million in compensation paid out in six years.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the committee, said: “The Home Office approach to immigration detention is careless and cavalier – including casework failures, insufficient judicial safeguards, and a general lack of humanity in the system.
“Making the wrong decision on detention can have a devastating impact on people’s lives as we saw from the Windrush scandal, but also from many other cases we have seen.”
Noting that the UK is the only country in Europe without a limit on the length of time someone can be held in immigration detention, the committee called for a 28 day limit to be introduced, with extensions available in exceptional circumstances only.
The report also recommended that initial detention decisions should be reviewed by a judge within 72 hours.
The Home Office said it was committed to reforming immigration detention, and is looking closely at the issue of time limits.
A spokeswoman said: “Detention is an important part of our immigration system – but it must be fair, humane and used only when absolutely necessary.
“We do not detain people indefinitely, and the law does not allow it – most people detained under immigration powers spend only short periods in detention.”