Decisions to Detain Asylum Seekers: Routine, duty or individual choice?

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The detention of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom takes place in a context of wide and largely unrestrained discretion. The majority of asylum applicants are granted temporary admission into the UK while their claims for refugee status are being considered. However, some are detained in prisons or detention centres from the time of their arrival. The lack of effective external review and the frequent failure by the Immigration Service to disclose the specific reasons for individual decisions have reinforced the view of human rights groups that detention practices are arbitrary (Amnesty International 1995; 1996). This chapter draws on interview-based research conducted with Loraine Gelsthorpe (Weber and Gelsthorpe 2000), which provides the first systematic account of how ‘immigration officers’1 at ports make these discretionary decisions. The main aim of the discussion is to explain the wide variation between immigration officers in their reported use of detention, with reference to the work of Herbert Kelman and Lee Hamilton on ‘crimes of obedience’ (Kelman and Hamilton 1989).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExercising Discretion
Subtitle of host publicationDecision-Making in the Criminal Justice System and Beyond
EditorsLoraine Gelsthorpe, Nilcola Padfield
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)9781843924470
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


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