UK Detention in Focus

///UK Detention in Focus
UK Detention in Focus 2018-06-19T09:10:53+00:00

The UK Government has drawn criticism from regional and international bodies for its immigration detention policy and practice. Many of these bodies highlight the same concerns as the Detention Forum: the indefinite nature of immigration detention in the UK; the detention of vulnerable individuals and groups; the lack of robust, automatic judicial oversight; and insufficient attention to alternatives to detention.

European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)


The CPT is a non-judicial preventive mechanism established under the Council of Europe’s European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Committee members visit places of detention in each member state (including prisons, police stations, psychiatric hospitals and immigration detention centres) to assess the treatment of people deprived of their liberty. Afterwards, they send a detailed report with recommendations to the state government, and request a response. Visits usually take place every 4 years.

The CPT’s Report to the UK Government (2017) 

The Committee visited Yarl’s Wood and Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) and raised several concerns in its latest report:

  • The negative impact of the indefinite nature of detention was again noticeable to the CPT during this visit, despite the fact that a number of inquiries have recently also challenged the lack of time limit and other aspects of immigration detention.
  • The decision to detain is a purely administrative one taken by Immigration Officers or Home Office caseworkers, and is not automatically reviewed by a court or an independent review body.
  • Foreign nationals continue to be held in prisons at the end of their sentence, rather than being transferred to an IRC.

The CPT’s Factsheet on Immigration Detention (2017) 

In this factsheet, the Committee is strongly critical of indefinite detention. The UK is the only country in Europe not to have a time limit on immigration detention.

The prolonged detention of persons under aliens legislation, without a time limit and with unclear prospects for release, could easily be considered as amounting to inhuman treatment.

European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (2017)


UN Human Rights Council


The Human Rights Council is an intergovernmental body responsible for strengthening the protection of human rights and addressing human rights violations around the world. Its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism allows the Council to assess the human rights situation in UN member states.

The Working Group’s Report on the UK’s UPR (2017)

This report voiced concern about the lack of a statutory time limit on immigration detention in the UK. Several states recommended the introduction of a time limit, ending the detention of vulnerable individuals, and the implementation of alternatives to detention.


UN Committee Against Torture (CAT)


The CAT monitors the implementation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by states parties, which are required to submit regular reports. The Committee examines these reports and sets out its concerns and recommendations in the form of ‘concluding observations’. In some circumstances, it is also able to undertake inquiries and consider individual and inter-state complaints.

Concluding Observations on the UK’s 5th Periodic Report (2013)

In its latest response to the UK, the Committee urges the government to:

  • Ensure that detention is used only as a last resort, in accordance with the requirements of international law, and not for administrative convenience.
  • Introduce a limit for immigration detention and take all necessary steps to prevent cases of de facto indefinite detention.


Council of Europe's Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA)


GRETA is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Council of Europe’s Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings by states parties. It conducts visits and publishes country reports evaluating steps taken to give effect to the Convention.

GRETA’s Report on the UK’s implementation of the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (2016) 

GRETA observed that many potential survivors of trafficking continue to be held in immigration detention in the UK. It recommends that the UK government:

  • improve the identification of victims of trafficking in detention centres and ensure that following a positive reasonable grounds decision, possible victims of trafficking are speedily removed from detention and offered assistance and protection as provided in the Convention.