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Joint briefing on the revised Adults at Risk in Immigration Detention Statutory Guidance

Beth Mullan-Feroze
The Adults at Risk in Immigration Detention Statutory Guidance (AAR SG), a policy meant to protect vulnerable people in immigration detention, was significantly watered down by the government in April 2024. As experts in the field, we are concerned that the changes will lead to vulnerable people remaining in detention for longer, exposing them to increased risk of harm.

The AAR SG was introduced in 2016, after an independent review into the welfare of vulnerable people in detention led by Stephen Shaw, former prisons and probation  ombudsman. The Shaw review identified a systematic overreliance on immigration detention; too many vulnerable people being detained for too long; inadequate healthcare provisions; and a failure of existing safeguards.

As such, a key aim of the AAR SG was to improve the protections for particularly vulnerable people in detention, (including those with mental health difficulties and physical disabilities; victims of torture and trafficking; and victims of gender-based violence), and to mitigate against the risk of further human rights breaches.

It is important to note that, even prior to the recent changes, serious long-standing concerns  have been raised over many years about the effectiveness of the AAR SG, including by the Brook House Inquiry, the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, and the House of Common’s Home Affairs Committee.

Concerningly, the government has now made changes that reduce the already inadequate protections even further, putting vulnerable people at yet greater risk. The changes include removing a previous commitment to reducing the number of vulnerable people in detention and their period of detention and granting the government the power to seek a second opinion on medical evidence from external providers documenting a person’s vulnerability, often leading to further deterioration in health due to longer periods of detention, and the loss of liberty. The changes were laid out in the Draft revised guidance on Adults at Risk in immigration detention, published in April 2024 along with an accompanying Statutory Instrument and came into effect on 21 May 2024.

The changes are likely to result in more vulnerable people being detained, for longer periods of time, increasing their risk of suffering harm and, potentially, human rights violations. They come at a time of much wider powers to detain granted to the Home Secretary by the Illegal Migration Act 2023, a planned expansion of the detention estate and the mass detention of people for removal to Rwanda – many of whom are known to be vulnerable and affected as a result.

The changes run entirely counter to the findings and recommendations of the recent Brook House Inquiry, a public inquiry established by the Home Secretary, into the abuse of detained people. The Inquiry found 19 incidents of credible breaches of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights within a period of just five months. It further found that the systemic deficiencies and dysfunction of the detention safeguards contributed to the occurrence of such abuse. 

The revised AAR SG has been drawn to the special attention of the House by the Lords’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC). The Committee has raised concerns that “the Government has not set out how it will monitor and report on the policy”, despite the fact that the “possible adverse impact of detention on vulnerable people makes these changes controversial”, and that “the House and the general public will wish to be kept abreast of their effects in practice”.

For more information, click on the arrow below to read the full briefing.