Lack of adequate legal representation for detainees

In many cases detainees who are not entitled to legal aid have to present their asylum claims on their own. They may not necessarily have the services of an interpreter in so doing and will rarely be aware that medical evidence can be an important part of making an asylum claim.  

Medical Justice’s experience is that there are many cases in which the lack of adequate access to lawyers and medical services means that detainees’ claims for asylum are not being properly or fairly determined and that there is little opportunity for detainees to redress injustices. We have encountered many cases in which there is strong medical evidence supporting accounts of rape or torture which was never considered in determining an asylum claim. Our experience is that Home Office procedures for dealing with asylum claims are often not properly followed and asylum decisions often lack the degree of rigour to be expected. Our experiences are shared by most other organisations working with detainees.

Lack of adequate legal representation also results in unlawful and unnecessary detention of vulnerable persons. One HMIP report found that even Immigration Officers themselves thought there was “little or no consistency or logic” in who gets detained.  There are reports of asylum seekers arriving in the UK and given Temporary Admission with instructions to report back in 48 hours.  On reporting back the person may then be detained on the basis of being a potential absconder, even though they have just demonstrated otherwise.

Amnesty International reported in June 2005 that immigration detention in the UK “is in many cases protracted, inappropriate, disproportionate and unlawful”, and the organisation called on the Government to justify the lawfulness of detention in each and every case:  “Seeking asylum is not a crime, it is a right. Thousands of people who have done nothing wrong are being locked up in the UK. We found that in many cases there was no apparent reason to detain people”.

One of the most disturbing elements of the UK’s policy of detention is the length of time for which children are being detained. Anne Owers, Her Majesty’s Inspector Prisons expressed the view in her report into Dungavel detention centre that “the welfare and development of children is likely to be compromised by detention, however humane the provisions, and that will increase the longer detention is maintained." The supposed safeguard of ministerial review of detention of children every 28 days is, in practice, ineffective.