More on deporting foreigners
I recently posted in Ephems a piece about the undesirability of deporting foreign nationals from Britain immediately after they have been convicted of serious offences, instead of keeping them in prison and then if necessary, in extreme cases, deporting them after they have served their sentences. I wrote this shortly before the rumpus exploded that was to blow Charles Clarke out of the water for the failure of his department to fulfil its statutory duty (imposed on it, misguidedly, by Mr Blunkett during his time as home secretary) to 'consider for deportation' all foreigners who had been sentenced to a year or more in prison. In a predictably panicky reflex reaction to the portrayal by the tabloids of Britain's streets running with blood as a direct consequence of the home secretary's error, Messrs Blair and Clarke announced plans for new legislation to make it mandatory and automatic, save in the most exceptional cases, to deport all foreigners convicted of any offence, however trivial and regardless of individual circumstances, for which imprisonment could have been the penalty — even when it wasn't. Outraged by these hardly credible proposals, I submitted a letter to The Times on the subject, which that newspaper predictably didn't publish. As one or two people of impeccable judgment to whom I have shown it have commented favourably on it, I venture to reproduce it here. The immolation of Mr Clarke, in Mr Blair's auto da fe after the dismal local election results of last week, by no means indicates that the Blair-Clarke proposals for deporting foreigners en masse, regardless of their circumstances, will now be dropped: on the contrary, we may expect the good Dr Reid to whip the file smartly out of his Pending tray at the first opportunity, and to see how he can make them if anything even more draconian — to demonstrate that his machismo exceeds even that of his predecessor and their boss. It may yet get even worse. Already an anonymous civil servant, in a comment on my earlier Ephems item, has warned that the home office is planning a new régime under which foreigners will be deported first and permitted to appeal against their deportation only afterwards — from abroad. This was indeed foreshadowed in a little-noticed and obscurely worded passage of the prime minister's notorious 12-point proposals for tightening Britain's security, listed in the introductory statement at his press conference on 5 August 2005:
In any event we will consult on legislating specifically for a non-suspensive appeal process in respect of deportations.
It's hard to believe that the British courts would let him get away with such a monstrous denial of due process, but we have been warned, and intensive vigilance is required if we are to ensure that this and the other 'automatic deportation' proposals are fiercely resisted in parliament, the media, the blogosphere and every other nook and cranny of public discourse, the moment they are resuscitated. Anyway, here's what I wrote (on 4 May 2006, the day of the local elections and before the prime minister had put the match to Charles Clarke's political funeral pyre) in my abortive letter to The Times:
Sir, Foreign nationals who have served their sentences and paid their debt to society for past offences pose no more danger to society when released than the far more numerous British citizens who are in the same position but cannot be deported. Instead of pointing this out in order to calm irrational public fears whipped up by circulation-hungry tabloids, Messrs Blair and Clarke, true to form, have themselves panicked, and obeyed their gut instinct, when threatened by revelation of their own incompetence, to give themselves yet more powers in hasty and ill-conceived legislation, pandering to ignorance, prejudice and xenophobia. The home secretary already has ample powers to deport any foreigner whose presence he believes is not conducive to the public good, and the onus is rightly on him to show in each case that he has reasonable grounds for his belief. Under Mr Clarke's new proposals this onus is to be reversed: any foreigner convicted of any imprisonable offence, even if not sentenced at trial to imprisonment and even if not recommended by the trial judge for deportation, will have to produce reasons why he or she should not be deported — an intrinsically impossible task. This regime will hugely increase the sense of insecurity and alienation of foreign nationals living in the UK on whose contributions to our national life (and sense of belonging) our prosperity and indeed our security depend. It poses a corresponding threat to thousands of British citizens living abroad. It implies that foreigners who commit even quite minor offences in Britain will be punished twice for the same offence, while Britons who commit identical offences will not: so it is patently discriminatory and obviously disproportionate. If ministers were genuinely concerned about the threat to our security from former prisoners of whatever nationality re-offending after release, they would reform the system so that far fewer people would be sent unnecessarily and unproductively to prison in the first place, and turn prisons from places where people are brutalised, criminalised and exposed to a drug culture almost guaranteed to ensure that they will re-offend, into places where they may learn literacy and job skills and be freed from drug dependency. Instead, ministers are recklessly bent on a vindictive new regime calculated to make a bad situation worse, imposing on the immigration service and the courts a new burden which will in practice be impossible to bear, as well as making us an even more unfair and xenophobic society — all in the hope of saving their own political skins. If the 'consultation' process is to have any meaning, these proposals should be rejected with contempt.
Put these proposals in the shredder, Dr Reid. Please.