BID’s Policy and Research Manager John Hopgood on the findings of BID’s latest Legal Advice Survey, and the government’s published data on detention.

It’s no surprise that successive governments have long been unwilling to publish too many statistics on as controversial a subject as immigration detention. Going back well over a decade, it has been a battle to secure the publication of numbers of detainees, of children in detention, of detainees held in prisons, of internal advice on securing travel documents, and many more. BID routinely has to ask, via Freedom of Information requests, for basic information that the government normally declines to publish.

This reluctance to share essential information about detention practice is one of the reasons that BID carries out the Legal Advice Survey twice each year. As far as we’re aware, our survey is the only available data on the levels of legal advice and representation for people held in detention. The latest set of data paints a stark picture as always.

The headline findings – that just two-thirds of detainees have a legal representative, and that 1 in 10 people in detention have never had someone provide them with legal advice – are now shocking only in so much as that we have come to expect them. Time and again BID asks these questions, and time and again we hear the same answers.

The key challenge for detainees in securing legal representation is, always, cost. Unlike on many immigration-related matters, legal aid is still available for bail applications from detention. But it is means- and merits-tested.  And our survey shows the challenge that detainees face to even find out about their rights.

Every person in detention has the right to 30 minutes’ of free legal advice, provided by a law firm holding a legal aid contract. Shockingly, our latest survey found that 1 in 3 people in detention weren’t aware of this right. Half of all detainees we surveyed hadn’t been able to access this free advice while in detention. And just 30% of detainees were taken on as a client by the legal aid providers after having their free advice session.

Where free legal advice is a right – and BID believes that it always should be – it is inexcusable that so many people are not made aware of the options available to them. But this lack of openness is a plague within the detention regime – even the most basic information on detention is shared only reluctantly.

Every three months, the government publishes a dataset on immigration, including on detention. The detention section contains key figures – the most recent data shows that, as of the end of March, 2,930 people were in detention, and that in the previous 12 months, 48% of people leaving detention were removed from the UK.

The data, if you look hard enough, shows that in the past three months, 285 people left detention having been detained for 6 months or more, and that as of March 31st, there were 12 people in detention who had been locked up for more than two years, apparently awaiting their ‘imminent’ removal from the UK.

Interestingly enough, however, those particular statistics are no longer available on the overview page, where up to now they were published. Now, they can only be found by delving into the spreadsheet published alongside the overview, finding the correct tab and applying several filters to the data. Rather than actually reducing the number of people held in detention for lengthy  periods , the government’s approach is simply to stop telling us about it.

Oh, and as for the Prime Minister’s ‘fair and serious’ offer to EU citizens living in the UK? If you know where to look in the data, you’ll find that the number of EU citizens being removed or deported from the UK has now increased by 600% since Theresa May first became Home Secretary in 2010. In the same period, deportations of non-EU nationals have actually fallen by 12%.  EU citizens are being targeted by immigration enforcement at an unprecedented rate. Not that the government is telling anybody.

Categories: Commentary, Legal Advice Survey
Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) is a registered Charity No. 1077187. Registered in England as a Limited Company No. 03803669. Accredited by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner Ref. No. N200100147. We are a member of the Fundraising Regulator, committed to best practice in fundraising and follow the standards for fundraising as set out in the Code of Fundraising Practice.
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