Another High Court judge rebukes the UK Border Agency for its detention of mentally ill foreign offenders.
On 17 April, Mr Justice Singh QC ruled that the detention by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) of a Nigerian offender was unlawful after a psychiatrist said the man urgently needed proper assessment in a mental hospital, four months into his immigration detention. It took UKBA another six months to get the man transferred, despite an assessment that he was ‘clearly unfit for detention’. His bizarre behaviour, including refusal of food, sleeping in a toilet area and drinking water from a toilet bowl, was treated by UKBA staff as evidence of ‘non-compliance’ justifying further detention, rather than evidence of mental distress. Eventually, the man was sent to psychiatric hospital, where he was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. But following treatment, despite medical advice he was sent back to immigration detention, where his mental state once more deteriorated. The treatment of this very ill man by UKBA staff was degrading, and his further detention irrational, ruled the judge.
Following earlier legal challenges, UKBA changed its policy to make the detention of mentally ill foreign nationals easier to justify, but the judge ruled that the policy change itself was unlawful, for failure to consider race equality duties. The new policy had been imposed with no consultation of interested organisations such as Freedom from Torture, Medical Justice, Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA) or Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), and no clear guidance or criteria for detention had been formulated. (The old policy said that those suffering mental illness should be detained only in exceptional circumstances.)
This is the third time in less than a year that UKBA officials have been found to have violated one of the most fundamental human rights – the right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment – in their zeal to keep foreign national offenders detained pending their deportation. As the man’s solicitor, Hamish Arnott of Bhatt Murphy solicitors, commented: ‘It is shocking that the Home Secretary has reacted with disinterest to two previous court findings that immigration detainees with mental illnesses were subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment. This judgment will now require her to confront this issue and carry out a proper review of the policy to ensure that this does not occur again.’
But in a political and media climate in which the deportation of ‘undesirables’ takes priority over everything else, neither legal challenges nor concern from the judiciary appear to have changed official practices. In February, HM Inspector of Prisons criticised the detention of mentally ill migrants at Harmondsworth removal centre, finding that ‘there was no mental health needs analysis’ there. Campaigners ask what it will take to stop the continuing scandal of prolonged immigration detention of the most vulnerable people. When did a person’s immigration status become more important than the person?
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