Everyone from Jamie to Tony has gone big on this story (old uncle Jon Snow and all). And I can understand that – if there’s one thing more welcome than Charles Clarke looking incompetent, it’s Charles Clarke and David Blunkett looking incompetent.
But I do wonder if this is the right stick to beat them with. Listening to the appalling Nick Robinson grilling Clarke on BBC news, you’d think the Bastille had just been stormed (or Strangeways at least): Minister, can you tell me where the three murderers who were mistakenly released are now? And the nine rapists? How about the five paedophiles? No answer, came the stern reply. Safety Elephant in Lost Dangerous Foreigners Shock.
I hate to come to the defence of Clarke, let alone Blunkett, but is this really a story? We’re talking, after all, about people who have done their time: if they hadn’t been foreign nationals the lot of them would have been Living Among Us all this time, even the rapists and the murderers. Admittedly, there are arrangements for keeping track of potentially dangerous ex-offenders, but they’re relatively new – the first MAPPAs were set up in 2001, four years after the end of those wild, free-wheeling Tory years. They’re also – at least from where I’m sitting – relatively controversial: the implicit message “once a dangerous offender, always a dangerous offender” may have the ring of truth from the standpoint of the police, but it’s hard to square with the principle of innocence until proven guilty.
Nevertheless, the outcry over the failure to deport foreign ex-offenders seems to assume, as its psychological backdrop, something like the MAPPA mentality of indefinite surveillance after release. This essentially Lombrosian approach to the criminal justice system – where the top priority is to identify the criminals and segregate them from the law-abiding majority – is, of course, dear to the hearts of both Clarke and Blair; it was only the other day that Clarke proposed a new package of measures for controlling Bad Men.
At best, it’s ironic that Clarke’s undoubted incompetence should have been exposed in this particular way. At conspiracist worst, the release of this particular batch of bad news – which was first requested last October – may have been timed to test the public mood. If this is the case, I’m afraid they’ve got precisely the answer they were hoping for.
Update Paul Anderson is on the case:
It’s outrageous that so many foreign murderers have been let out of gaol here and are now free to kill innocent Britons. They should have been deported to where they came from so they could now be killing innocent foreigners.
There’s also been a statement from the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns. I’m reproducing their comments here because I think they give some useful background and clarify the argument. (Thanks to AS for the link.)
For the last 24 hours there has been a media frenzy about 1,000 foreign national who had committed crimes, served time in prison but were not deported from the UK on completion of their sentences.NCADC have always opposed the deportation of foreign nationals who because of the crime they have committed have been ordered to leave the UK because the Secretary of State deems their presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good.
Breaking the law is not acceptable but the law must be fair and seen to be fair in how it punishes someone who breaks the law. Sentencing must be consistent and not discriminatory. To sentence a UK citizen to 10 years for a crime and when the person has served the sentence is released back into the community with appropriate safeguards is correct, however to sentence a foreign national to 10 years for the same crime and when the person has served the sentence deport them from the UK is discriminatory and unjust.
It is a fundamental principle of UK law that a person cannot be punished twice for the same offence. However this does not apply to foreign nationals living in the UK, irrespective of how long they have been living in the UK or that they have established ties with their families and communities. If they commit a crime and are sentenced to imprisonment they can also face a secondary punishment of deportation.
Deportation can take place in two ways. Firstly, it can be recommended by a court following conviction for an offence punishable with imprisonment. Secondly, even where the court makes no recommendation, the Home Office can subsequently intervene and serve a deportation notice on the grounds that the prisoner’s presence in the UK is not “conducive to the public good”.
Deportation following conviction can be irrespective of how long a person has lived in the UK, irrespective of their family ties in this country. In many cases the Home Office will argue that to keep the families together, partners and children of convicted foreign nationals can uproot themselves and go and live abroad often in countries they may have never been to, this amounts to constructive deportation.
However the courts in these cases can often disagree with the Home Secretary when he tries to deport someone with family ties in the UK. Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life. At times it would not be feasible, realistic, practicable, reasonable or sensible for the whole family to uproot and leave the UK because of the conviction of the head of the family. In one particular case where the Home Secretary’s intention to deport was rejected the adjudicator said: “… deportation at the end of a ten year sentence may indeed come close to a double punishment – and one that would appear to be, largely, reserved for persons from the ethnic minorities.”
NCADC call for an end to the practice of double punishment of foreign nationals as it is discriminatory and unjust.
Update 27th April
Brian is also talking sense with regard to this one:
Once a person — even a foreigner! — has served his sentence and been assessed to be safe for release as posing no likely further threat to society, he or she ought not to be further penalised by being deported, provided he or she was legally in the country to begin with. Deportation needs to be justified by specific and provable evidence in each case. Even foreigners have rights!
Read the whole thing.