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An inspector called

12 June 2015

THERE are many things that are admirable about the UK justice system. Not the least of these is the monitoring regime organised by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons. Immigration Removal Centres, like ordinary prisons, are inspected on average every three to four years, usually by a team that arrives unannounced and cannot be refused access. Their inspection reports are publicly available (with a little digging) on the Ministry of Justice website, and reading them provides a cool assessment of the lives of detainees and the official concerns about them. Each centre's report ends with a list of wide-ranging recommendations, and the authorities are expected to act upon them. Some of these are concerned with minor irritants - repair of gym equipment, improved lighting in the library, curtains that close properly, and so on.

More alarming are the passages that indicate the potential mistreatment of detainees. The dispassionate language used does nothing to diminish the concern generated by what is being described. Here, for example, is a passage from the most recent inspection of a removal centre, Tinsley House, near Gatwick Airport: "Our survey responses about safety were not as good as at the last inspection. Thirty-seven per cent of detainees now told us they felt unsafe, compared with 17 per cent at our previous inspection, and the figure was now similar to comparable establishments." In other words, more than one third of detainees felt unsafe, and this is the industry norm. One phrase that comes to the fore is "repeated recommendation". This indicates items that were highlighted in a previous report but which still require action. In Tinsley House this applies to such recommendations as the provision of a suitable care suite for detainees at risk of self-harm or suicide; and that detainees should not be subject to "exhausting overnight transfers between centres". These are not small matters.

As the Master of the Temple reminds us on this page, next Monday sees a celebration to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. It included the phrase: "To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice." As our report from Yarl's Wood suggests, and as the inspection of Tinsley House attests, there are people in Britain for whom right and justice are being denied and delayed. In the language of HM inspectors, "We were not persuaded that necessity to detain was always adequately considered for individuals or families." The new Government is under intense political pressure to stem the flow of immigrants into the UK, but this does not excuse the inhuman treatment of those who manage to effect a passage, regardless of whether they have a right to stay. Societies, from biblical times to the present, are judged by how they treat strangers in their midst. The UK continues to be wanting, to the shame of those who run the system, but equally to those who turn a blind eye.

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