Bianca Venkata discusses volunteering with BID
Following Bar Chairman Andrew Langdon QC’s call to support Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) in Counsel Magazine, Bianca Venkata discusses why this is such an important cause.
BID is a charity which specialises in helping immigration detainees obtain bail. BID’s work includes holding workshops at immigration removal centres (IRCs) for detainees and developing an invaluable step-by-step guide for detainees on how to obtain bail (more information is available here). For the most vulnerable detainees, BID prepares bail applications.
Why does bail matter?
The UK has 11 IRCs holding at any one time approximately 3500 detainees. Many people who are detained have never committed a crime: they have simply over-stayed their visa or had their asylum request refused. There is no limit to the duration of detention in the UK.
Detention has been shown to be incredibly detrimental to a person’s physical and mental well-being. Many of those detained have already suffered greatly: stories of torture and great personal loss are not rare.
IRCs are not nice places. IRCs closely resemble prisons: at many IRCs detainees are locked up in their cell for most of the day. There is a significant lack of access to fresh air. Many of the IRC officers are former prison officers. Foreign national prisoners are detained at IRCs alongside people who have never committed a crime. Mental illness, depression and fear flourish in such an environment. This leads to high attempted suicide rates: according to the NGO No Deportation, since 2007 there have been 2571 attempted suicides at UK IRCs.
Most recently, in January 2017, Lukasz Debowski, a 27 year old polish detainee at Morton Hall committed suicide, tragically on the same day as his girlfriend gave birth to their child. Mr Debowski had been refused bail on 23 December 2016 as his heavily pregnant girlfriend was unable to attend the hearing to act as surety.
There has even been murder. Tragically on 1 December 2016, Tarek Chowdhury, a 64 year old Bangladeshi national was murdered, allegedly beaten to death by a fellow detainee, at Colnbrook IRC.
How can you help?
Many detainees do not speak English and, due to cuts in legal aid, do not have access to a solicitor. This means that it is very difficult for them to put together a coherent bail application. BID only has the resources to assist the most vulnerable detainees. Further support for BID will mean that more people can obtain bail.
Members of the Bar can volunteer with BID to represent a detainee at a bail application. BID prepares the bail application and Counsel presents the application. It is great advocacy experience, as well as being an excellent cause. The bail hearing includes making representations on points of law and witness handling.
Another worthwhile charity is Jesuit Refugee Service-UK (JRS UK), which accompanies detainees at IRCs by providing visitors, emotional and practical support.
About the author
Bianca Venkata is a barrister at Outer Temple Chambers. She, along with other members of Chambers, volunteers with BID and JRS UK. To find out more information about these charities please visit http://www.biduk.org and http://www.jrsuk.net/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barristers: Bianca Venkata