Post by Anna Beesley, PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology, University of Glasgow. Anna currently sits on the committee for Scottish Detainee Visitors, a small charity that supports immigration detainees in Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre, and coordinates Detention Forum Scotland. In this post, she reflects on the beginnings of the Immigration Bail Observation Project Scotland, which involves School of Law staff and students.
Observing Immigration Bail Applications: communicating remotely?
‘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 (IBOPS) that began last month in Glasgow. IBOPS is a genuinely collaborative initiative between staff and students from the University of Glasgow (Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network (GRAMNet), School of Law and the student Law in Action group) and Detention Forum Scotland, with funding from the AHRC Researching Multilingually Project. Its aim is to conduct the first comprehensive and systematic study of immigration bail hearings in Scotland. After conducting a one week pilot study in July, IBOPS has begun observing and recording data on all immigration bail hearings held in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber (IAC) of the Tribunal Service, Glasgow until mid- November.
32,053 people entered immigration detention in the year ending June 2015, a figure that rises each year. The majority of people held in Scotland under immigration powers are detained in Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre (IRC), from where the majority of bail hearings are video-linked. However, people are also held under immigration powers in Scottish prisons. Throughout the UK there is currently no time limit to immigration detention and on occasion people have been detained for over four years. During this time they can apply for bail.
On Saturday 10th October in a small room at the University of Glasgow fifteen keen volunteer observers – predominantly law students – underwent training on the whys and hows of immigration bail. Clara della Croce and Gill Baden from the Campaign to Close Campsfield’s Bail Observation Project kindly joined us to share knowledge of their ongoing study in England and reflected on their personal, and at times emotional, experiences of bail hearings. Immigration solicitor Tanjeel Maleque, with his team of actors, performed a mock bail hearing and shared his experiences and frustrations of being a lawyer in the bail court.
For me, the training day emphasised and reminded us of the importance of continual reflection upon detainees’ experiences and agency within the bail hearings; the experience that Cecilia was interpreting above. For virtually all detainees in Dungavel, bail hearings are conducted in a small room positioned next to the visiting area. The room comprises of a table holding a microphone and a plastic chair that waits for a body. Straight ahead a television screen is linked up to the court room, positioned so that the detainee can see the judge, Home Office Presenting Officer, their solicitor and the interpreter. They cannot see either side of the room where cautioners, friends and family support them, alongside the IBOPS observers.
Before the hearing detainees and their solicitors are sent the Bail Summary (a document produced by the Home Office to outline why the person should remain in detention), described by Tanjeel Maleque as that which ‘makes or breaks’ the application. This is supposed to be sent by 2pm the day before the hearing, yet, Tanjeel has never received it before 4pm and it is usually closer to 5pm when he gets the summary. In Dungavel the process of getting the Bail Summary, always written in English, to the appellant takes even longer. Faxes must be sent and received, staff must be ready to collect them, detainees notified, and maybe other detainees with language skills found to translate it. This often results in solicitors having no more than the designated 10 minutes consultation time to go through the Bail Summary with their clients the morning of the hearing. (Close Campsfield are petitioning to get this time doubled). Struggling to point out a positive, Tanjeel stated that at least during the consultation he can get up close to the television screen so that the detainee can actually see him.
During the court proceedings the quality of the video-link prevents the person in Dungavel from being able to distinguish the features and facial expressions of the people on the screen in front of him or her (this works both ways, inhibiting the judge from seeing clearly the person whose credibility is being questioned). Poor sound quality from the video-link causes detainees’ sniffs, tears and distress to become amplified in the court room. Depending on the judge, detainees may be allowed to speak (when spoken to). Yet, during the pilot study, I witnessed twice detainees being denied the ability to put a question to the court. Moreover, communication between the court room and Dungavel is often passed through an interpreter. Depending on the interpreter, all or almost none of the hearing will be translated (see Good, 2007; Gibb & Good, 2013).
Assuming that the bail application gets to court, i.e. the solicitor has not withdrawn it – something that solicitors do if the judge renowned for never granting bail is sitting that day, the limited vision, the lack of embodied communication, poor sound quality, and a reliance on an interpreter brings into question how fair the hearing can be. In a room at the University of Glasgow we can only imagine how detainees experience this process, yet, we begin to understand Cecilia’s Kafkaesque observation.
But this is not new; all of what I describe has been observed, explained and 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 detainees’ access to justice. As budget cuts put pressure on the tribunal and policy reform further restricts detainees’ ability to seek bail a fair future for detainees’ access to justice 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 with no time limit, who are at the heart of this process.
If you have any queries regarding this study 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