Press release : HMIP report on Harmondsworth IRC – detention of torture. In response to the HMIP report published 13/03/18

The Home Office detaining those it recognises as torture victims is reprehensible.

Medical Justice sends volunteer doctors into immigration removal centres to document detainees’ scars of torture. Our experience tallies with HM Inspector of Prisons’ report that despite recognizing that detainees are victims of torture, and therefore at increased risk of harm in detention, only 15% are subsequently released.

HMIP’s evidence corroborates Medical Justice repeatedly ignored warnings to the Home Office that its “Adults at Risk” policy aimed at reducing risk of harm to vulnerable immigration detainees is in fact increasing the risk of harm.

16 MPs from across the parties attended a meeting Medical Justice organised in the House of Commons hosted by Lord Dubs last month and were briefed by experts that even more torture survivors are likely to be harmed in the future. Following Medical Justice’s successful judicial review of the Home Office’s narrowed definition of torture used in its “Adults at Risk” policy, which excluded many torture survivors from being identified as such, the High Court ordered the definition be amended and laid before parliament for approval. The Home Office notified us of its proposed new definition – Medical Justice and other charities have raised serious concerns about the proposed definition and fear it may put torture survivors at more, not less, risk.

Furthermore, the Home Office has refused to wait for the full findings of an ongoing review it commissioned by a former Prison Ombudsman into the welfare of vulnerable immigration detainees, including torture victims, before drafting amendments to the Adults at Risk policy aimed at protecting said detainees.


Following growing criticism of detention conditions, including a series of High Court findings that immigration detention amounted to ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’, the Home Office commissioned Stephen Shaw to review the welfare of vulnerable detainees. He reported in 2016 and was highly critical of the treatment this vulnerable group received in detention. His recommendations were largely accepted by the Home Office.

The resulting Adults at Risk policy came into force in September 2016 and was intended to bring about the transformative change demanded by Shaw’s recommendations. Shaw is currently carrying out a re-review of the progress towards his original recommendations and is due to report to the Home Office later in March 2018.

Medical Justice, Freedom from Torture, the Helen Bamber Foundation and other charities raised concerns with the Home Office following the implementation of the Adults at Risk policy, arguing that the policy failed to address Shaw’s 2016 recommendations, and that far from increasing protection to vulnerable detainees, it actually increased the risk of harm. The Home Office ignored these concerns.

Medical Justice and seven detainees brought a judicial review challenging the narrowing of the definition of torture, which the High Court found was unlawful in October 2017. The court ordered the Home Secretary to reintroduce a wider definition of torture, and review and reissue the policy within a “reasonable period of time”. The Home Office has indicated that it will publish the amended torture definition before the Shaw re-review is published, citing that they are under time pressure to comply with the court order and the parliamentary process to approve amendments.

If the Home Office wants to ensure that the revised policy addresses fully the Court judgment and the concerns of civil society, it is imperative to wait for publication of the full and final Shaw re-review findings. This will allow Home Office officials, the concerned charities and parliamentarians to fully consider any amendments to the guidance in light of Shaw’s informed recommendations. Our view is that the short delay this will incur in issuing the draft amendments will not constitute a failure by the Home Office to meet the “reasonable period of time” deadline stipulated by the court.