Home Affairs Committee Evidence Gathering Session with Stephen Shaw

Home Affairs Committee Evidence Gathering Session on Immigration Detention - September 2018

On Tuesday September 11th, the Home Affairs Committee took evidence on the subject of immigration detention, from Stephen Shaw CBE, author of the 2016 Independent Review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Person and the 2018 follow-on Review, assessing government progress in implementing the findings of the initial report.

The Home Affairs Committee is one of the House of Commons Select Committees related to "the expenditure, administration and policy of the Home Office and its associated public bodies". The Home Affairs Committee is chaired by Labour MP Yvette Cooper. At the end of their inquiry, the Home Affairs Committee can be expected to produce a report.

The session can be viewed online and the transcript can be read in full here (yet to be published online) with submitted written evidence.

The hearing started with questions about the Adults at Risk policy and Rule 35 reports. Shaw admitted that the Adults at Risk policy continued to be deficient and required action saying that "there are [still] very disappointingly large numbers of vulnerable people in detention". His suggestion was to bring greater independence to casework decision making and also to make changes to the categories of vulnerability that can be reported on by splitting category 2 into further categories. However, he admitted to being shocked to find those with a category 3 vulnerability still detained.

He said "I am as confident as I ever have been in my public life that the direction of travel is an encouraging one. But does Rule 35 work? - no, manifestly it doesn't".


He also commented on the way that his comments on the call for a 28-day time limit being more of a slogan than based on evidence, had been received by the Home Secretary and by NGOs in the detention sector. He clarified that he had “no principled objection to time limits whatsoever” asking "would time limits assist in focusing attention [of Home Office caseworkers] and preventing the very long time that people are held in detention? The chances are they would."


A critical part of the evidence-gathering session was the Committee’s discussion of self-inflicted deaths in detention, considering that more than one person a day requires medical treatment for self-harming in detention and that the number of detainees on regular “suicide watch” is on the rise.

"I found it frankly odd and self-defeating that the Home Office doesn't follow the normal practice in the Ministry of Justice of making a statement when there is an apparently self-inflicted death in detention… I think it’s outrageous that there should be any question other than that those figures are made routinely available.

He went on to say “The Home Office doesn’t learn enough from self-inflicted deaths in IRCs and serious acts of self-harm. I think it should address the problem face on – what are the levels of suicide and self-harm we are facing? Is our response appropriate? These are the deaths of people in the care of the state and there shouldn’t be any secrecy in that.

Acting Director at AVID, Harriet Ballance, commented on Shaw's statement on the secrecy surrounding deaths in detention, in an article on the matter the Independent, saying that "the unprecedented number of deaths in detention in the last two years is a clear indictment of both indefinite detention, which in itself is utterly damaging, and the ongoing detention of vulnerable people"


In contrast to the other opinions he vocalised during the session, Shaw took a starkly strong view against the detention and deportation of ‘time-served foreign national offenders’. He said that it was particularly wrong when such a person arrived in the country at a very young age.

He said that "the current approach [to deport time-served FNOs] splits up families in this country. It is often monstrously disproportionate to the offence and I question whether it’s fair for the sixth richest country on earth to expel people who were ‘made’ in this country, who commit crimes here, to third world countries".

Conservative MP Rehman Chishti strongly disagreed comparing his own experience as an immigrant who arrived at a young age. He said that these people had made a choice to come in search of a better life and had in effect squandered that opportunity by committing crimes. He called for them to be ‘returned’.

Shaw replied “My own view, is that those people who have either been born here or come here at a young age are in effect more British than they are foreign. We talk about return, but there is no notion of return.


Conservative MP Douglas Ross asked Shaw about the failures of whistleblowing mechanisms in properly flagging where there is abuse of power.

"On paper these policies appear to be alright. Yet individual members of staff don't have confidence in them and don't want to use them." said Shaw. He also said that wherever there are closed institutions where there is an imbalance of power, there will be “the potential for abusive behaviours”.


Chair Yvette Cooper asked Stephen Shaw "Doesn't it trouble you that individuals on behalf of the state are making the decision to lock someone up without ever having met them?" Shaw replied, saying that he shared the "underlying concern in the question”. “Caseworkers refer to cases; they tend not to talk of people. I met a caseworker who was unnerved by the prospect of going to an IRC or actually meeting someone that she had made the decision to detain because it humanises them."

The Chair then asked “Don’t we have a responsibility if the state is locking people up?” to which Shaw replied “This is the state at its most coercive, I agree with you.


An interesting moment came towards the end of the session when the Chair Yvette Cooper tried to hold Stephen Shaw accountable for the report’s recommendations and the way in which they have been received by the government. “The reason I am pushing you on this is: Do you think your recommendations and your report have just been a bit too soft given the scale of what’s at stake here?”. However, Shaw refused to comment, saying that is for others to decide. He said that he was taking the Home Secretary at his word that he would “push forward the pace of reform”.

The Chair continued to argue the point: "It seems that you [Shaw] are saying that the detention gatekeeper is not working, the screening process is not working, the three, six and nine-month case review process is not working, the Rule 35 process is not working... Don't you think actually you should be recommending something much more radical given that where the [detention] system goes wrong [the Home Office] are depriving people of their liberty and human rights? The damage to that individual and their family is so substantial that surely the reforms should be more radical?

Shaw later went on to say "We do need to change the culture, including the culture that denies that there is a presumption of liberty for everyone. Loss of liberty should be determined ultimately by a judicial process and not an administrative one."


Shaw said that he welcomed the introduction of automatic bail hearings at the 2-month mark, saying that it went further than his recommendation and that he would like to see how the policy proposal plays out. However, the Chair questioned this logic, saying that there would still be injustices ongoing during any trial period.

Yvette Cooper asked about the separation of a parent or parents from their children and asked Shaw whether he came across examples of this in detention. Stephen Shaw said that he had, "Yes. Lots and lots."


The evidence-gathering session was then brought to a close.