Immigration officials used powers of detention “unlawfully and inappropriately” to hold members of the so-called Windrush generation even though they were entitled to be in the UK, a parliamentary inquiry has found.
In a damning report, MPs and peers on the Joint Committee on Human Rights said the Home Office’s treatment of the Windrush cases had been “shocking”, with individuals being locked up unless they could satisfy officials they should not be detained.
It dismissed the Home Office’s explanation that their treatment was down to individual errors and called for a “fundamental change in the law, culture and procedures” to ensure human rights were properly protected in future.
The Windrush scandal came to a head earlier this year when it emerged hundreds of Commonwealth citizens who came to the UK in the years up to 1973 and were entitled to be in the country had been wrongly threatened with deportation.
In its report, the committee looked at two individual cases – Anthony Bryan, 60, and Paulette Wilson, 62 – who came to the UK from Jamaica as children in the 1960s.
Both endured two periods of detention – an experience the committee described as “traumatising and debilitating” – after they were unable to provide the documentation to prove their immigration status.
However, the committee said their case files showed officials discounted “ample information and evidence” – including their own accounts of their lives and representations for family members, lawyers, MPs and people who had known them for decades – backing their claims.
It said it was “unacceptable” that the rights of a whole category of people with a legal right to be in the UK had been overlooked by officials.
“The Home Office’s approach to Windrush detention cases demonstrated a wholly incorrect approach to case-handling and to depriving people of their liberty,” the report said.
“The Home Office required standards of proof from members of the Windrush generation which went well beyond those required, even by its own guidance; and moreover were impossible for them to meet – and which would have been very difficult for anyone to meet.
“This led to officials making perverse decisions about their status. Moreover, it seems that if those standards were not met, Home Office officials then considered that they had grounds to detain.
“Such an approach is simply unlawful – it is for the Home Office to satisfy itself that it has a power to detain an individual – not for an individual to have to satisfy the Home Office that they should not be detained.”
The committee said detention powers should not have been used to hold people who were settled in the UK and posed no real risk of absconding.
“Detention powers have been used unlawfully and inappropriately by the Home Office without assuring itself that it had a right to deprive individuals of their liberty,” it said.
“There should be fundamental change in the law, culture and procedures to protect human rights in the work of the Home Office.”
The committee chair Harriet Harman said: “What happened to these two people was a total violation of their human rights by the state’s most powerful government department.
“It needs to face up to what happened before it can even begin to acknowledge the scale of the problem and stop it happening again.”
The Home Office said Home Secretary Sajid Javid had offered personal apologies to Mr Bryan and Ms Wilson while making clear lessons must be learned.
“Our priority is to ensure that those who have struggled to demonstrate their right to be here are supported to do so and we have issued more than 2,000 documents confirming people’s settled status,” a spokesman said.
“But we know that it is equally important that we ensure that nothing like this can happen again. That is why we are carrying out historical reviews of detention and removals and have commissioned an independent lessons learned review.”