Are you OK with cookies?

We use small files called ‘cookies’ on Some are essential to make the site work, some help us to understand how we can improve your experience, and some are set by third parties. You can choose to turn off the non-essential cookies. Which cookies are you happy for us to use?

The indefinite nature of detention

  1. Individuals should have been detained at Brook House only if there was a realistic prospect of removal from the UK within a reasonable period of time.1 However, there was and is no fixed or maximum period of time for which someone may be detained at Brook House or at any other IRC.2 This is sometimes referred to as indefinite detention.
  2. Despite being designed to detain people on a short-term basis, the average stay at Brook House in July 2017 was 44 days. Five people had been there for one to two years.3

Table 4: Length of time in detention

Date*Average length of time in detention, including at other IRCsAverage length of detention at Brook HouseProportion of people detained at Brook House for more than 28 daysSource
2010Almost 6 monthsAround 3 months67.4%Report on a Full  Announced  Inspection of Brook  House Immigration  Removal Centre  15–19 March 2010, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, 2010, pp90, 92
2011Not availableAround 3 months (93 days)59.4%Report on an  Unannounced Full  Follow-up Inspection  of Brook House  Immigration Removal Centre 12–23  September 2011, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, January 2012, pp5, 29, 35, 92
2013Not available28 days37.5%Report on an Unannounced Inspection of Brook House Immigration
Removal Centre 28 May–7 June 2013
,HM Chief Inspectorof Prisons, October
2013, pp29, 80-81
2016Approximately 3 months48 days47.6%HMIP000613_029


January 2017
93 days54 days41.6%CJS0073709_060

December 2017
99 days49 days50.3%CJS0073709_060
201944 daysNot available but stated by HMIP to have “markedly declined” since the
previous inspection in 2016
202272 daysNot available20.9%Report on an Unannounced Inspection of Brook House Immigration
Removal Centre 30 May–16 June 2022 (HMIP000702), HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, September 2022, p25
* Note: Years do not relate to the whole year but are a snapshot.
  1. Mr Philip Riley, Director of DES within the Home Office, contended that “We don’t have indefinite detention” on the basis that the Home Office detained people only for the shortest period possible and maintained detention only under certain conditions.4 I disagree with this characterisation. Whether or not the Home Office complied with its legal obligations regarding the initial decision to detain and subsequent decisions to maintain detention was irrelevant to the fact that there was no maximum period for which someone could be detained. It is also unclear, when an individual is detained, for how long detention will last. Thus, detention is indefinite. Mr Riley gave the sense of the Home Office trying to avoid the reality of how people experienced being detained by refusing to characterise the practice as one of indefinite detention.
  2. It was clear from the evidence of detained people, those who worked at Brook House, NGOs, and inspection and monitoring bodies that indefinite detention caused uncertainty, frustration and anxiety for detained people, with a negative impact on their health and wellbeing.

55.1 D1538 said:

“The thing is, when you are in detention you are in a constant state of not knowing and uncertainty. I was taken to detention, I did not know when I was leaving, or if I was leaving, and where I would be going. It is like a forgotten prison, with forgotten prisoners. You don’t know what is happening or what will happen. And so many people stay there for so long, for so many years, in this state.5

55.2 D687 said:

“I don’t know why the Home Office decide to detain people indefinitely like this, like they’re animals, instead of treating them with respect and dignity. I would understand being detained for a short period of time, for the purposes of removal if that was immediately possible. But there has to be a limit on how long that can be allowed.”6

55.3 D1527 said:

“It is so upsetting and stressful to not know how long you’ll be detained for. You could be there from one day to several years. I’ve seen that with my own eyes. I’ve seen people there for years, who have no idea when or if they will ever be released. If they knew the maximum time they will be there for, they will have hope, they will know when they will be released. They will be much less likely to want to kill themselves. Not knowing when I would be released, and being told that I was being kept in detention longer because I was suicidal, made me want to kill myself more.”7

  1. These effects were reinforced by other witnesses.

56.1 Professor Bosworth agreed that the lack of time limit created:

“an enormous amount of anxiety for people who are detained, which affects their mental health, and their mental health deteriorates for the longer that they are detained”.8

56.2 Some DCOs and DCMs expressed significant concerns about the impact of indefinite detention. For example, DCM Nathan Ring described it as the “root of all problems”, DCM Stephen Webb regarded it as “quite cruel” and Mr Tulley viewed it as “the most destructive element of detention.9 They and those working in Healthcare also described the negative impact on detained people’s mental health. For example, Mr Webb’s view was that “if you lock people in what is effectively a prison for an indefinite amount of time then ultimately, however good the care is, they are going to suffer, particularly in respect of their mental health”.10 Dr Husein Oozeerally, lead GP at Brook House during the relevant period and at the time of the Inquiry’s public hearings, thought that the uncertainty of detention rather than detention itself adversely affected health. Ms Sandra Calver, Head of Healthcare during the relevant period and at the time of the Inquiry’s public hearings, explained that the lack of an end date to detention was “what can often play on their mental health”.11

56.3 These concerns were also expressed by senior management at Brook House, who described the frustration caused by indefinite detention as well as the physical and mental impact of the uncertainty. Mr Skitt expressed the view that uncertainty about the length of the period of detention was responsible for “a lot of the frustrations” and left some detained people in “ever-spiralling circles”.12 Mr Petherick suggested that uncertainty was the “main issue” that had an impact on detained people’s wellbeing and mental health, while Mr Hanford referred to indefinite detention being “very frustrating” for detained people.13 Senior G4S managers also referred to difficulties with detained people being held on a long-term basis at Brook House when this was not what it was designed for.14

56.4 Witnesses from NGOs had a similar perspective on the impact of indefinite detention on detained people. They contended that a time limit should be introduced.15 For example, Mr Macpherson told the Inquiry:

“Detained people find it very hard to be faced with indefinite detention. You can see people’s kind of mental health unravelling over time, so I think a clear limit, so they know how long they will be held, the maximum they will be held, in detention would go a long way to help the situation.”16

56.5 Both the IMB and HMIP recommended a time limit be introduced.17 (The IMB did so on several occasions, and reiterated the recommendation in its Closing Statement to the Inquiry.) Following its May–June 2019 inspection, HMIP noted: “There was evidence that lengthy and indefinite detention affected feelings of safety and wellbeing.”18

  1. The Inquiry also heard evidence about the detrimental impact of lengthy periods of detention, which was likely exacerbated by the design of the building and the particular environment at Brook House.

57.1 For example, as discussed in Chapter D.3, the 2018 Verita report concluded that the physical constraints and lack of facilities at Brook House made it “an unsuitable environment in which to hold detainees for more than a few weeks”.19

57.2 As noted in its 2022 inspection report, HMIP remained concerned that “the length of detention remained unacceptably long in some cases”, with one person detained at Brook House for 16 months and five cases where people had been held in different places of detention for over 1,000 days.20 Over 20 per cent of people had been at Brook House for more than four weeks, and the average continuous time spent in detention (including in other centres) was 72 days. 21

  1. Professor Bosworth considered that “the lack of clarity about the duration that anybody is going to be in their care makes it pretty easy for [staff] to not care”.22 She added that the introduction of a time limit on immigration detention would:

“significantly reduce the kinds of distress shown in the video footage and would make the purpose of these institutions clearer. This, in turn, would bolster a professional staff culture and help to prevent a recurrence of the events of 2017.”22

  1. Indefinite detention had a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of detained people and therefore contributed to conditions where mistreatment could occur more easily.
  2. The Inquiry noted that a time limit on immigration detention had previously been recommended by various organisations, including:
  • the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration;23
  • the Joint Committee on Human Rights;24
  • the Home Affairs Committee;25
  • the British Medical Association; 26
  • the Bar Council;27 and
  • the Equality and Human Rights Commission.28

The Government rejected these recommendations, as well as an attempt to introduce a time limit by means of an amendment to legislation in 2020, which the House of Commons voted against.29 Various United Nations bodies had also called for a time limit on immigration detention in the UK.30 As discussed in Part B in Volume I, the legal situation remains largely as it was during the relevant period. There is still no time limit on an individual’s detention.

  1. In my view, the introduction of a time limit on detention would constitute a significant improvement to the treatment and wellbeing of those detained in IRCs.
  2. I note that the Home Office guidance states that removal can be said to be imminent where, among other things, “removal is likely to take place in the next four weeks”.31
  3. Based on the evidence the Inquiry heard, and in accordance with many of the previous recommendations to which I have referred above, I consider that 28 days is a reasonable time limit, although I acknowledge that there is no magic to the specific number of days.
Recommendation 7: A time limit on detention

The government must introduce in legislation a maximum 28-day time limit on any individual’s detention within an immigration removal centre.


  1. This is a summary of what are known as the Hardial Singh principles, from the case of R (Hardial Singh) v Governor of Durham Prison [1983] EWHC 1 (QB)[]
  2. With the exception of pregnant women and families (INQ000064_014-015 para 3.9[]
  3. CJS0073709_060 para 6.2[]
  4. Philip Riley 4 April 2022 61/23-62/17[]
  5. DL0000231_044 para 174; DPG000021_008 para 26; DL0000144_059-060 para 145[]
  6. DPG000021_009 para 26[]
  7. DL0000144_059-060 para 145[]
  8. Professor Mary Bosworth 29 March 2022 15/7-12[]
  9. Stephen Webb 8 March 2022 139/11-18; Callum Tulley 30 November 2021 55/1-3; INQ000199_008 para 6(1[]
  10. MIL000003_022 para 107[]
  11. Dr Husein Oozeerally 11 March 2022 107/11-19; DRO000001_013 para 115; Sandra Calver 1 March 2022 186/25-187/5[]
  12. Stephen Skitt 17 March 2022 48/8-17[]
  13. Lee Hanford 15 March 2022 82/10-11; INQ000164_054 para 106; Jeremy Petherick 21 March 2022 98/17-99/6[]
  14. Lee Hanford 15 March 2022 96/12-19; Peter Neden 22 March 2022 68/3-7. The 2018 Verita report expressed similar concerns (CJS0073709_016 para 1.57; CJS0073709_140 para 9.55; CJS0073709_253 para 15.3[]
  15. BHM000030_023 para 46; BHM000030_032 para 64; BHM000030_034 para 67; BHM000030_044 para 96; DPG000002_026-027 para 69; DPG000002_079-080 para 228; DPG000020_030 para 90a; see also CJS0073865_001. See also INQ000204_158-167 paras A6.5-A6.44 regarding the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees, the British Medical Association and Liberty[]
  16. Jamie Macpherson 8 December 2021 230/15-22[]
  17. IMB000221_006 para 18d; IMB000222_040 para 98c[]
  18. HMIP000674_020 para S45[]
  19. CJS0073709_140 para 9.55[]
  20. INQ000227_005 para 1[]
  21. INQ000227_025 para 2.51; Immigration Detention – Sixteenth Report of Session 2017–19, Joint Committee on Human Rights, January 2019[]
  22. Professor Mary Bosworth 29 March 2022 40/12-16, 154/14-18[][]
  23. The Report of the Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom, All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, 2015, pp18, 33-34[]
  24. Immigration Detention – Sixteenth Report of Session 2017–19, Joint Committee on Human Rights, January 2019, para 68[]
  25. Immigration Detention – Fourteenth Report of Session 2017–19, House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 21 March 2019, paras 224-228[]
  26. Locked Up, Locked Out: Health and Human Rights in Immigration Detention, British Medical Association, November 2017, p4[]
  27. Bar Council press release, November 2017; Injustice in Immigration Detention: Perspectives from Legal Professionals, Anna Lindley, SOAS, November 2017, p3 para 9[]
  28. ee Protecting Human Rights: Key Challenges for the UK’s Third Universal Periodic Review, Equality and Human Rights Commission, December 2016, p21; Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2019–21, Equality and Human Rights Commission briefing, May 2020[]
  29. Immigration Detention: Government Response to the Committee’s Sixteenth Report of Session  2017–19: Second Special Report of Session 2019–20, Joint Committee on Human Rights, October 2019, p14; Letter from the Minister of State for Immigration to the Chair of the Committee, 23 July 2019, para 38; Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – New Clause – Time Limit on Immigration Detention for EEA and Swiss Nationals – 19 Oct 2020 at 21:15(cross-party amendment to the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill). See Hansard columns 806, 807 and 823 for the parliamentary debates on the issue; see also Hansard columns 867-870 for voting figures[]
  30. Report of the Committee against Torture, UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 2013, para 30c; Concluding Observations on the Seventh Periodic Report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, UN Human Rights Committee, 2015, para 21a; Written Evidence Submitted by the UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency (IDD0018), April 2018; Concluding Observations on the Sixth Periodic Report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, UN Committee against Torture, June 2019, paras 54-55; Visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland undertaken from 9 to 18 September 2019: Recommendations and Observations Addressed to the State Party, UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, May 2021, para 56; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland: Compilation of Information Prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Human Rights Council, August 2022, para 63[]
  31. Home Office Enforcement Instructions and Guidance, Chapter, Application of the factors in55.3.1 to criminal casework cases[]