Since the Immigration Act 2014, unaccompanied children may only be detained with strict safeguards for up to 24 hours and only in short-term holding facilities. Children within families may only be detained for up to 72 hours, or not more than seven days where personally authorised by the Minister, and only in short-term holding facilities or pre-departure accommodation.
The new powers at clause 10 of the Illegal Migration Bill would mean that a large group of child arrivals would be detained without these time limits and anywhere that the Home Secretary considers appropriate. This could mean babies and children indefinitely detained in any facilities. Short-term holding facilities at Western Jet Foil, Lydd Airport and Manston were already condemned in July 2022 by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for holding children for too long in non-residential accommodation and in February 2023 detainees were found to have been held for too long in marquees in Manston in unacceptable conditions. In January 2023 the Inspector found that unaccompanied children were held for too long at other short-term holding facilities at five airports and ten seaports.
Such mass, routine detention of children is a regressive step without justification which would undo an achievement that is a proud Conservative government legacy. It will cause immeasurable harm to children.
The Bill would also bring in changes to judicial oversight. Clause 11 is intended to change the long-established position that it is for the court to decide for itself whether the detention of a person for the purposes of removal is for a period that is reasonable. This change applies across the board to all detention powers and not only to the new powers introduced by the Bill.