Guest blog by Anna Beesley, SDV committee member. Anna is also a PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology, University of Glasgow, and coordinates Detention Forum Scotland. In this post, she reflects on beginnings of the Immigration Bail Observation Project Scotland.
‘So you mean it’s like watching a play, but a play that decides the fate of your own life and you cannot do anything about it?’ said Cecilia during the training session held for observers taking part in the Immigration Bail Observation Project Scotland (IBOPS) that began last month in Glasgow.
IBOPS is a collaboration between the University of Glasgow and Detention Forum Scotland. Its aim is to conduct the first comprehensive and systematic study of immigration bail hearings in Scotland. Following a pilot in July, IBOPS will observe and record data on all bail hearings held in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, Glasgow until mid- November.
The majority of people held in Scotland under immigration powers are detained in Dungavel, from where most bail hearings are video-linked. There is no time limit on immigration detention in the UK and applying for bail is the only way people can challenge their detention.
On Saturday 10th October, fifteen keen volunteer observers undertook training on immigration bail. Clara della Croce and Gill Baden from the Campaign to Close Campsfield’s Bail Observation Project joined us to share knowledge from their ongoing study in England. Immigration solicitor, Tanjeel Maleque, with his team of actors, performed a mock bail hearing and shared the experiences and frustrations of being a lawyer in the bail court.
For me, the training day emphasised the importance of continual reflection upon detainees’ experiences and agency within the bail hearings. For virtually everyone detained in Dungavel, bail hearings are conducted in a small room next to the visiting area. The room contains a table holding a microphone and a plastic chair that waits for a body. Straight ahead, a television screen is linked to the court room, positioned so people in detention can see the judge, Home Office Presenting Officer, their solicitor and the interpreter. They cannot see their cautioners, friends and family or the IBOPS observers.
Before the hearing, people in detention and their solicitors are sent the Bail Summary, always written in English, by the Home Office. This is supposed to arrive by 2pm the day before the hearing but delays often result in solicitors having no more than the designated 10 minutes consultation time to go through it with their clients on the morning of the hearing.
During the court proceedings the quality of the video-link prevents people in Dungavel from being able to distinguish the features and facial expressions of the people on the screen in front of them. Poor sound quality causes the sniffs, tears and distress of people in detention to become amplified in the court room. Depending on the judge, appellants may be allowed to speak. Yet, during the pilot study, I witnessed twice people being denied the ability to put a question to the court. Moreover, communication between the court room and Dungavel is often through an interpreter. Depending on the interpreter, all or almost none of the hearing will be translated (see Good, 2007; Gibb & Good, 2013).
All of this brings into question how fair the hearing can be. We can only imagine how people in detention experience the process, yet we begin to understand Cecilia’s Kafkaesque observation.
But this is not new. All of what I describe has been reported by Close Campsfield, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID)’s A Nice Judge on a Good Day and anthropologist Caroline White’s study. The former was influential in securing guidance to be issued for immigration judges, and all highlighted huge discrepancies in access to justice for people in detention.
As budget cuts put pressure on the tribunal and policy reform further restricts the ability to seek bail, fair access to justice for people in detention looks a long way off. We hope that IBOPS will help to build knowledge of bail hearings through a systematic illustration of the Scottish context and relate it to the wider UK practice of immigration detention, whilst remembering that it is human beings, detained without time limit, who are at the heart of this process.
If you have any queries regarding IBOPS, please email:
Sarah Craig, Senior Lecturer in Public Law, School of Law, firstname.lastname@example.org
Anna Beesley, PhD student, School of Social and Political Sciences, email@example.com
A version of this post has previously appeared on the University of Glasgow School of Law blog.