Refugee Council statement
Nick Hardwick, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council said:
“We are disappointed with the judges’ decision which represents a serious infringement on people’s fundamental rights to liberty. It is widely accepted that there are positive aspects of Oakington, such as excellent legal provision and other services, but detaining people there is completely unnecessary. The Home Office recognises that detainees in Oakington are law abiding and not liable to abscond, and therefore we believe it is wholly inappropriate to lock them up for purely administrative reasons.
“Though the Government has won a legal victory over Oakington, the real issue at stake is the unacceptable and growing use of detention under this Government resulting in asylum seekers’ being deprived of their liberty for an indefinite period of time. We detain more people than any other European Government and detain people who have not committed a crime in prisons.
“We urgently appeal to the Government to implement immediately the bail provisions of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act which has been repeatedly postponed and remains one of the few parts of the Act not yet enforced. The decision to detain must not be on the say-so of an immigration official but must be accountable to the courts.”
Notes to editor:
Bail provisions in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
Part III of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 creates a system of automatic bail hearings for those detained. Detainees would have a right to hearings – the first before the tenth day of detention and, if this is unsuccessful, another before the thirty-eighth day (section 44). Part III also provides that at these hearings there will be a presumption of liberty; that unless the Home Office can show, on the balance of probabilities, that one of the exceptions to this presumption applies, detained asylum seekers must be released (section 46). It was argued this system would go some way to redressing concerns about the lack of independent review of detention.
However, bail, by definition is a wholly insufficient guarantee against arbitrary detention because it depends on criteria other than the lawfulness of the detention, such as the availability of sureties.
Although bail hearings by their nature do not challenge the initial decision to detain, these changes were welcomed as a step in the right direction. To widespread concern, asylum seekers have yet to benefit because this is one of the few aspects of the Act yet to be implemented. The latest implementation date of October 2001 is under review. An assurance from ministers that these vital safeguards will be implemented soon would be welcomed.
Read our press statement on the High Court’s decision regarding the legality of Oakington, prior to this latest decision