Medical Justice
Biased and Unjust: The Immigration Detention Complaints Process

In 2011 Medical Justice established a project to provide support and assistance to detainees making complaints against the Home Office and its contractors. This report is based on our experience of these 31 complaints made by 28 clients in detention. The complaints ranged from serious misconduct, particularly injuries sustained during attempts to transfer the detained person or remove them from the UK, as well as inadequate health care, frequent cancellation of hospital appointments, use of handcuffs and the presence of guards in medical consultations. Other complaints included verbal abuse, including racial and sexual language.

The findings were that the complaints system in detention had significant practical flaws: complaints forms were difficult to access, detention staff lacked training about complaints procedures and there was a lack of information about the complaints process provided to detainees. The conduct of investigations were inadequate: time scales for replies to complainants were not met, investigations were frequently inadequate and partial, biased towards the Home Office’s contractor, even when there was evidence to the contrary. Almost half the complaints required escalation to the Ombudsmen. The report identified difficulties caused by the use of subcontracting and the complexity of identifying the correct avenue for a complaint, and a lack of oversight and co-ordination by the Home Office.

The report also drew attention to the fact that similar findings about the inadequacy of the complaints system had been made by the Complaints Audit Committee which had responsibility for annual reports and systemic consideration until it was disbanded by the Home Office. The Committee’s last report in 2008 had assessed 83% of complaints investigations as inadequate. Concerns about the complaints system had also been raised by the IMB and HMIP.

The report also documented the reluctance of detainees to make complaints and the fear that complaining would adversely affect their treatment in detention or their immigration case. Practical difficulties with the system also included the use of information provided in a complaint to undermine an immigration case, difficulties with accessing evidence to support the complaint and inadequate CCTV recording of use of force.

Overall Medical Justice considered that the lack of a robust complaints system could allow some abuses to continue unchallenged, with a failure for the Home Office to learn from mistakes or improve.