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Following a 10 month long battle, The Home Office has now been instructed by the Information Commissioner’s Office to release reports about the running of immigration detention centres. These reports, which experts fear may be damaging to the reputations of the contracted operators, refer specifically to two of the most prominent immigration detention centres in the UK; Harmondsworth (the UK’s largest detention centre) and Colnbrook, both of which are located in west London.
These reports have come to light due to a freedom of information request made by Corporate Watch research group. Both the Home Office and various Government officials have consistently battled the request, claiming that releasing the information would have a detrimental effect on the commercial interests of the contractors involved in the running of the centres.
The reports are set to reveal in depth insights into the running of the immigration detention centres in question. They have been prepared by contractors for the relevant Home Office officials on a monthly basis since they took over their operations, but this will be the first time that any of the information disclosed has been made available to the public.
Although it was acknowledged by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) that the release of these detailed reports would indeed be detrimental to the commercial interests of the contractors involved, their final decision was that the public interest element of this case outweighed the importance of considering the detriment to the contractors. As a result, the Home Office was given a number of weeks – until the 13th of July – to release the reports into the public domain.
A major factor in the decision that was eventually made has been said to be the fact that immigration detention and removal centres have caused a lot of controversy in the recent press. Due to the negative press that the centres have attracted and the resulting concern caused to the public, the Information Commissioner’s Office stated “Given this publicly available criticism of the operation of these centres, the commissioner’s view is that there is in general a very strong public interest in other information about their operation”. Another factor in the decision was that the contractors’ fees for the operation of the immigration removal centres are being paid for by money from the public purse. The ICO said that this fact rendered the information contained in the reports as ‘highly relevant’ to the taxpayer. These factors were compounded by the nature of immigration removal centres being such that those detained within them are vulnerable. Since 2012, there have been alarming increases in the instances of self harm, with over 60 separate incidents in 2014 at the Harmondsworth centre alone, further emphasising how vulnerable detainees are.
With the government increasingly choosing to outsource contracts to private companies, this decision by the ICO could prove to be incredibly important as it removes the exemption to the Freedom of Information Act for government departments; an exemption upon which they have heavily relied in the past.
The Home Office will now have the opportunity to appeal the decision made regarding the reports, although it has not yet been confirmed whether or not they plan to do so.
If you would like to read more about the decision made by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the full notice for the release of the reports can be read here.