Detained Fast Track denies access to justice

The Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency’s investigation into the Detained Fast Track asylum process, published today, finds ample evidence of the dysfunctions of the Fast Track.  Yet the Chief Inspector, John Vine, fails to draw the conclusion that fundamental reform is needed.  In contrast to today’s ringing condemnation from the UN High Commission for Refugees, John Vine’s report is curiously muted.
The main reason for this is his remit.  A key question for the Chief Inspector is whether the Detained Fast Track removes people quickly.  There is no question that it does: hence its popularity with Ministers and the UK Border Agency.  But how does it achieve these quick removals?
John Vine appears to give the quality of decision-making in the process a clean bill of health.  The reason for this is his focus on appeals upheld as a marker of quality.  93% of refusals are upheld by the courts, he reasons, so the quality of initial decisions must be high.  Yet this misses the point about how the Detained Fast Track denies access to justice: detained asylum-seekers find it just as difficult to present their cases effectively in the courts as they do to the UKBA.  It is necessary to consider the quality of the whole process, not of the initial decision in isolation.
As a result, John Vine seems to view as minor details the problems that he has found.  Asylum-seekers are detained for an average of 11 days before they are interviewed, without access to legal advice, rather than the three to four days foreseen in UKBA policy.  The solution?  Not to eliminate the delays, but to change the policy to factor in these unnecessary delays.
The absence of effective screening is highlighted by the finding that 30% of asylum-seekers on Fast Track are released, often because they are torture or trafficking survivors.  This is bad enough, but we and other NGOs frequently see such unsuitable people go through the Fast Track all the way to removal.  Once again, John Vine has no way to assess.
Nevertheless, despite these shortcomings, John Vine’s report marks an important step towards recognition in government of the problematic nature of the Detained Fast Track, long viewed as the pride of the UKBA.  The questions that John Vine asks, however limited, are not easily answered, and will not go away.
Particularly now that the UNHCR, which monitors the quality of the Detained Fast Track, is taking a stronger public position.   In the words of Roland Schilling, UNHCR’s representative to the UK, “Asylum seekers who come to the UK have often experienced extremely distressing circumstances which have caused them to flee. To be led off to a detention centre – sometimes in handcuffs – as soon as they arrive, is far from a humane way of being treated. These people did nothing other than to ask for protection.”