A piece written by Isaac Ricca-Richardson, BID Volunteer and future BPTC student at BPP featured in the July issue of our e-newsletter.
If volunteering for Bail for Immigration Detainees has taught me one thing, it is that justice is not in fact blind. Rather, it sees all too clearly existing social structures, and often acts to perpetuate them further.
Perhaps I could have predicted that before I began; after all, there is a panoply of evidence which demonstrates that justice is far less accessible to the most excluded in society. Maybe I could also have foreseen that this issue would manifest itself most of all in relation to immigrants, considering no group is more ostracised in contemporary Britain.
But it is one thing to appreciate academically that an inequality of arms still exists in this country, and another thing entirely to witness first-hand the way it acts to silence and neuter the most vulnerable. In truth, I do not believe that any amount of detached consideration of the current legal landscape could have prepared me for the frequency with which I have seen judges maintain detention in spite of every test and piece of evidence, simply because the Home Office wouldn’t lie, would they?
This may seem like an inherently biased perspective. It isn’t. There are countless cases I could relay that provide clear proof, but one sticks out more than any other. Our client had already been incarcerated for 14 months, more than twice what the relevant guidance defines as a “long period”. He also had an independent medical report outlining that he may have been a victim of torture, which by government policy means detention should not continue unless there are “overriding immigration considerations”. What’s more, when he had previously been on bail for two years he had complied with every condition of his release - suggesting that there were no such overriding considerations in his case.
Perhaps most crucially, considering detention is effectively only lawful where removal is likely to be imminent, there was no evidence that the Home Office even had the necessary documentation to achieve this. In fact, they had set a removal date for him on four separate previous occasions – causing judges in bail hearings prior to those dates to maintain detention – and had cancelled each time for what they murkily described as “operational reasons”.
Each of these factors provided a clear argument in favour of my client’s release. Yet at his hearing the judge didn’t even engage with them. He rejected the barrister’s suggestion that in light of previous failings the Home Office should have to produce the document that would allow him to be removed; stating simply that they had given assurances removal would take place this time, and should be taken at their word. Similarly, he ignored the evidence that my client had undergone significant rehabilitation since his offence, instead asserting without explanation that he posed an unacceptable risk of public harm.
It is difficult to accept that the legal process would be so unprincipled if it applied to individuals from the higher echelons of society. But this is precisely why charities like Bail for Immigration Detainees are so vital: they provide at least some voice to those who would otherwise be silenced entirely. Even in the face of all the obstacles to justice placed before immigration detainees, they have helped bail nearly 200 people this year alone. Very few of these grants were easily won, but came instead through ceaseless, unified work across the organisation. Despite my anger, this is a source of real hope; for if we are ever to overcome the inequality of arms, it will surely be by ordinary people refusing to surrender to the existing order of things.