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Home Office accused of pressuring judges not to release immigration detainees during pandemic

MIGRANT-rights campaigners have accused the Home Office of pressuring judges not to release immigration detainees during the pandemic. 

In an official letter to a top immigration judge, the department requested written explanations for a drastic rise in the number of migrants released from detention centres in recent weeks.

The request was rebuked by First-tier Tribunal president Michael Clements, who sent a letter back stating: “As [an] independent judiciary we decide bail applications in accordance with the law.” Since the lockdown was imposed on March 23, charity Bail for Immigration Detainees (BiD) says 95 per cent of applications for bail have been approved. 

"Clearly immigration judges do not think that people should be in detention,”  BiD policy coordinator Rudy Schulkind the Star.

“Since the lockdown began on March 23, of the 58 cases where we have provided representation, 55 have been granted bail.

“We are surprised that the Home Office is spending more time trying to interfere with the judicial approach to bail cases rather than focusing on improving its decision-making process, which is frequently flawed.”

The charity has been fighting for detainees’ release on a case-by-case basis, arguing that as most flights are grounded it is not possible for people to be deported so they must be let go. 

It comes after Detention Action lost a legal case seeking the release of all detainees last month. The charity had raised concerns that detainees are at higher risk of catching the virus. 

The Home Office letter, dated April 29, defended continued detention during the crisis by listing measures it has taken to adapt its facilities and routines.

It also said that the judgement in favour of the Home Office against Detention Action had left the department “somewhat surprised” at the high number of successful bail applications. 

However Mr Clements dismissed the request for written evidence as “unnecessary.” 

Responding to the exchange, the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) said it was “not appropriate for (the Home Office) to use its position outside of the courtroom to seek to influence decisions.”

“We welcome the response from president Clements who reiterated the importance of an independent judiciary,” ILPA chairman Adrian Berry told Free Movement.

Other groups also expressed their outrage at the apparent attempt to influence the independent judiciary. 

Detention Action director Bella Sankey said: “The Home Office is losing its grip and lashing out at the independent judiciary.

“Its attempt to pressure the Immigration Tribunal over its release of people detained indefinitely during the Covid pandemic is a constitutional disgrace.”

The Home Office denied the accusations, saying the letter “transparently explains our pandemic response including carefully reviewing cases.” 

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