Four Algerian men, each detained for between eleven and seventeen months whilst they awaited deportation, have been released following a landmark ruling which found that their detention was unlawful. This case has significance for those large numbers of detainees who continue to remain detained unnecessarily, and possibly unlawfully, for long periods.
This form of indefinite detention is believed to have significantly increased since the foreign national prisoner scandal of April 2006, according to the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID). It far exceeds the controversial forty-two day maximum detention that the government is seeking to introduce for terror suspects.
The men had served sentences for crimes ranging from having false papers and working illegally to shoplifting, robbery, and theft. Following completion of their sentences, the men were detained in immigration detention centres pending deportation. There they were held in a state of administrative limbo, with Algerian authorities indicating that they did not recognise the men as Algerian nationals whilst the Home Office remained determined to deport them to Algeria.
On 21 January 2008, the High Court determined that the detention of three of the men was unlawful, given that there was no prospect of their removal to Algeria within a ‘reasonable’ time frame. The fourth man was released ten days later following revelations that ‘fundamentally inaccurate information’ on his case was presented by the Home Office at the time of the initial hearing, according to his lawyer, Jo Hickman of Fisher Meredith.
The court found that all four cooperated with attempts to prove their nationality, from producing biometric data to utilising Red Cross assistance in order to trace family members in Algeria. One had his identity documents seized and subsequently destroyed by the police. The Home Office had argued at the hearing that the four men had been uncooperative in attempts to prove their nationality.
The finding has significance for a large number of individuals who remain unlawfully detained. The right to apply for bail to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal is an ineffective remedy in these cases, as the Tribunal cannot rule on the legality of detention. The only recourse open to those held in indefinite detention is to make an application for their release to the High Court and access to legal expertise capable of dealing with such a case is limited.
The case was brought by the Habeas Corpus Project, housed at BID. According to the project, ‘many detainees are detained indefinitely and the Secretary of State will rarely release long term detainees unless compelled to do so by the Courts’. Yet, ‘the reality is that there are few firms of solicitors who have the expertise necessary to make such applications’.
Link to the High Court ruling