Deporting foreigners: making the punishment fit the crime?

I seem to be alone in deploring the current clamour for deporting every last foreigner who has been convicted of any offence, however minor, and even where the sentencing judge has made no recommendation for deportation.  Spokespersons for all three major political parties seem to be competing for the electoral prize for the harshest and most extreme deporter of Johnny Foreigner (presumably the BNP wants to deport them all anyway, whether or not they have been convicted of any offence).  One minister has even spoken of her hopes of hitting a 'target' for the numbers of foreigners deported.

A resident of this country who happens to hold another country's passport, but has lived in Britain since early childhood and has no other home, perhaps married to a UK citizen and a parent of children who are UK citizens (who can't, of course, be deported), would suffer one of the most brutal punishments imaginable if deported after serving a few weeks' imprisonment for a quite minor offence.  Yet our politicians seem bent on making deportation of offending aliens automatic, regardless of extenuating circumstances or the effects on the offender's family. 

When a senior prison service official issued a moderately worded circular suggesting that there was no interest in deporting aliens sent to prison for less than two years, all hell broke loose, with accusations flying about to the effect that the prime minister's promise was being broken and that the country would be flooded with footpads, assassins and rapists if foreigners given shorter sentences than two years were not after all going to be deported.  Officials hastily back-tracked:

Ms Homer, chief executive of the BIA [Border and Immigration Agency], played down the significance of the memo, saying it was in line with government policy – and offenders jailed for less than a year could still be deported if a court recommends it. She added: "The prime minister was categorical earlier this year that we are committed to the removal of foreign national prisoners who commit serious crimes in this country. "Nothing in this document changes that and, in fact, this year we have removed more foreign nationals than ever before. We have repeatedly said we will target the most dangerous first, which is why we are initially targeting those who have served more than 12 months."

Chris Huhne, almost elected leader of the Liberal Democrats and reputed to be more 'liberal' and radical than Nick Clegg who narrowly beat him for the job, was as savage in his condemnation as his Tory counterpart.  The BBC's full account of the uproar is well worth reading. 

Let's hope that we shall soon hear from Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, about this ugly manifestation of paranoid xenophobia — and, even better, from the courts, which will surely take a view on whether deporting an alien who has served a sentence for a minor offence, where there has been no court recommendation for deportation, is compatible with the offender's human rights under the Act and the Convention:  is the punishment (for that's plainly what it is) proportionate to the offence?  does deportation deprive him or her of the right to family life?  is such a punishment, imposed by executive order without due process through the criminal courts, in breach of the right to a fair trial?  The government will argue that the right to deport aliens under immigration laws and rules belongs by long tradition to the executive, but the courts have increasingly insisted that where an immigration act shades into punishment, the government must observe basic rules of equity and fairness, including those laid down ion the Human Rights Act.  The sooner we get a court ruling on this shoddy and disreputable practice, the better.

This was the issue over which the hapless Charles Clarke lost his job and his career back in May 2006;  his successors have obviously learned the lesson. Come back, David Blunkett, John Reid, Michael Howard:  all is, apparently, forgiven!  (Jack Straw needs no invitation to come back: crafty as an eel, he has never been away.)    

Gordon Brown should be ashamed of himself for caving in to this cheap Daily-Mail-driven populism.  In the immortal words of Joseph Welch, the US Army's lawyer, addressed to Senator McCarthy in 1953, "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?


4 Responses

  1. John Miles says:

    Regardless of whether you’re right or wrong in your assessment, your boy Gordon has got to be wrong.

    He trumpeted measures which he has failed to carry out.

    The conference all hooted, and clapped their chapped hands, and threw up their sweaty nightcaps, and uttered such a deal of stinking breath that you might have thought Gordon was the leader they’d always hoped for.

    What do they think now?

  2. Jeremy Varcoe says:

    Whilst you are right to be dismayed at the populist approach towards the deportation of all foreign (or more accurately non-EEA nationals) irrespective of the offences for which they had been convicted, you have not recognised – at least in this blog – the mitigating effects of appeals allowed by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal (AIT). Despite the Government changing the law so that there is now a presumption that foreign offenders should normally be deported, the Tribunal has frequently – in up to 30to 40% of cases, I believe, allowed appellants to remain in the UK on human rights grounds, ie under Article 8 of the ECHR. Given my previous position I feel bound to remind you of this!

    Brian writes:  Many thanks for pointing this out, Jeremy.  It's reassuring that a fairly high proportion of "non-EEA nationals" (euphemism for "non-Europeans", in practice, I suppose, apart from nationals of Switzerland, some of the Balkans and one or two former Soviet republics?) are winning their appeals against deportation on human rights grounds, a fact of which I wasn't previously aware.  But it remains (as you say) dismaying that the government continues to work on the principle that all those eligible for deportation should automatically be deported if they have been convicted of any offence, however unlikely it is that the offence will be repeated and however innocuous the offence from the point of view of national and social welfare and safety, and regardless of family and personal circumstances — however long they have been living in Britain and even if they have no home to go to in their countries of citizenship.  This indiscriminate system thus apparently relies on a somewhat unpredictable appeal process to save those whose deportation would entail a breach of their human rights.  This is no way to treat those who live in our country, whatever their citizenship.  It's scandalous, too, that the politicians of all three parties ignore the fact that the practice they clamour for involves such potential injustice to such a high proportion of those affected.  The Home Office is currently boasting of having hit and indeed overshot its "target" of 4,000 deportations this year, while the opposition parties accuse the government of exaggerating the true figure and failing to carry out its promises.  Is there no political leader brave enough to stand up and denounce this nasty, xenophobic policy?  

  1. 21 December, 2007

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  2. 21 December, 2007

    […] Ephems of BLB created an interesting post today on Deporting foreigners: making the punishment fit the crime?Here’s a short outline […]

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