Press Release – Government rejects cross-party calls for a 28-day time limit on immigration detention

Detention Action Press Release – for immediate release

Wednesday 31 July 2019

Government rejects cross-party calls for a 28-day time limit on immigration detention
The government has today rejected the recommendation by the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) for the introduction of a 28-day time limit on immigration detention. The government’s response is in spite of repeated calls for a 28-day time limit coming from experts, civil society and MPs across Parliament, including senior figures within the Conservative Party.
In its response to the JCHR, the Home Office said it believes that the proposed time limit would “severely constrain the ability to maintain balanced and effective immigration control, potentially incentivise significant abuse of the system, and put the public at risk.” It also said that there are “already considerable existing safeguards” and that “[a]ny time limit would require a significant and costly reengineering” of the system.”

In its report of February 2019, the cross-party JCHR concluded that “[w]hile there are strict safeguards to ensure independent decision-making and fair processes for detention in the criminal justice system, there are far fewer protections for people caught up in the immigration system. The current immigration detention system is slow, unfair and expensive to run.”

The UK’s system of indefinite immigration detention, which detains around 25,000 people per year, has come under increased scrutiny, with recommendations for a time limit coming this year in highly critical reports by the Home Affairs Select Committee and HM Inspector of Prisons, in addition to the JCHR.

In March of this year, the Home Affairs Select Committee “found serious problems with almost every element of the immigration detention system”[1] while recent analysis by Liberty and Cambridge Econometrics found that a 28-day time limit would save the taxpayer £35million per year.[2]

Proposals for the introduction of statutory safeguards such as a 28-day time limit have been set down in a widely supported cross-party amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill currently before Parliament. The Amendment is supported by over 80 MPs including a significant number of Conservatives, such as David Davis, Andrew Mitchell, Caroline Spelman, Crispin Blunt and Dominic Grieve. In addition, it has received the support of the Labour, SNP, DUP, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru, Independent Group for Change, Green frontbenches, and several Independent MPs.

The proposed reforms would set down in law, for the first time: a system for early and automatic judicial oversight of decisions to detain; a 28-day statutory time limit on detention; and safeguards against unjustified redetention.

The Amendment also has the backing of more than 40 civil society organisations, including the Bar Council, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Refugee Council and Stonewall.

Responding to today’s statement, James Wilson, Acting Director of Detention Action, said: “The 28-day time limit is much needed, sensible and workable, which is reflected in the wide support it has received from MPs across Parliament, experts and civil society.

“We are extremely disappointed by the government’s response to the JCHR’s recommendation. We believe that the government is relying on slogans and unsupported claims, rather than the independent evidence available. Far from striving for a ‘balanced and effective’ system, it continues to opt for one that is beset by inefficiencies, routinely ensnares vulnerable trafficking survivors, and releases the majority of people detained after pointlessly depriving them of their liberty.

“The government has referred in its response to ‘considerable existing safeguards,’ when the fact is that we have no time limit on immigration detention, no automatic oversight by a judge, nor even rigorous statutory criteria on who should be detained in the first place. It has also ignored analysis showing £35m in potential savings to the taxpayer with the introduction of a 28-day time limit.

“We call on the government to listen to the experts and MPs across Parliament, and reconsider the substantial body of independent evidence available in favour of a 28-day time limit on immigration detention.”


For media enquiries please contact Matthew Leidecker on 07720302825 or by email to

Spokespeople are available for broadcast interview.

Detention Action’s briefing, including Q&A is available here.


[1] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Immigration Detention Report, March 2019 

[2] Economic impacts of immigration detention reform, March 2019