There are currently about a dozen immigration removal centres in the UK. Over the past 12 months, around 30,000 people have been detained there, pending a decision on their immigration case. In an attempt to reduce number of migrants staying illegally in this country, the government sometimes resorts to not always appropriate and reasonable measures to prevent those with no valid immigration status from evading detention. Whereas in many cases people with an uncertain status are allowed to remain in the community, waiting for the outcome of their case, others, not as lucky, find themselves being locked up in removal centres, or even in prisons.
The usual difference between a detainee in immigration removal centre and an inmate in prison is that the former often will not have committed an offence that is punishable by a custodial sentence, save for the mere fact that there was something wrong with their immigration status. The practice by the authorities to detain immigrants in removal centres, while considering their case, is controversial and has been subject to a debate for a long time as well as constantly being challenged by various charities dealing with immigration detainees. There have also been instances of immigration detainees actually being kept in prisons pending the outcome of their immigration case.
In a recent survey published earlier this month by the charity BID, it has emerged that people who are subject to immigration detention experience difficulties with obtaining legal advice, with about a half of the respondents receiving no representation, and having to represent themselves as a result. The lack of legal representation is blamed both on public funding cuts and the authorities' failure to provide detainees with relevant information and means of communication. It is understood that the authorities at various removal centres are reluctant to provide detainees with online access to certain websites, so that they could independently look for the advice they desperately needed. It is worth adding that on average it takes up to two weeks for a detainee to be seen by a detention duty advisor. Most detainees understand that there might be a legal remedy to challenge their detention as well as realising that it is difficult to establish the existence of that remedy, let alone seeking it, with no legal representation available. The situation is even worse in prisons, with only a fraction of respondents saying that they received any independent legal advice about their immigration case while they were in prison.
In his comments on the survey's findings, BID's representative John Hopgood notes that "people held in detention centres are among the most marginalised in society. The government detains them purely for administrative reasons, and then denies them the information and legal advice they need to challenge that detention. [...] It is completely unacceptable for anybody held in detention not to have access to legal advice."