Tuesday, April 25, 2006

We're all normal

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.


Blogger Jarndyce said...

Agree with the sentiment Phil, but not the rest. This goes right to the heart of:

1. Why no one, especially not Clarke's department, ought to be entrusted with having a legal prerogative over all our most personal and secret stuff. (The "practical" as opposed to the "ideological" objection to the national identity register.)

2. Why the incessant introduction of new (and ludicrous) laws is so stipid when they can't even enforce the ones we already have to anything like a satisfactory degree.

Let's face it, depressingly, the vast majority don't give a shit for the civil liberties argument against ID cards. They do however respond to incompetence. Any port in a storm, old bean.

26/4/06 08:29  
Blogger Rob Jubb said...


it's the question of means and ends. This law, if I've understood it correctly, strikes me as an obviously bad law: forcibly removing people who have simply been born abroad - a category which presumably includes naturalised citizens - after they have served their alloted time is so clearly discriminatory that I'm fairly sure I don't want it properly enforced. Given that, it doesn't strike me as particularly terrible that it's not being properly enforced. I haven't seen anyone else apart from Phil express any disquiet at the fact that people who have every right to be in this country are being expelled from it.

On the other hand, it does display a marked degree of incompetence. By all means, point out the incompetence, but I think scaremongering whilst doing so is particularly irresponsible. Apart from anything else, it plays right to New Labour's authoritarian tendencies: look at these terrible people who you all desperately need to be protected from. A particularly cynical person might think that, given Clarke's said he's not going to resign, this was exactly their intention.

26/4/06 10:10  
Blogger Jarndyce said...

I dunno, Robert, given that there are rules (not that I agree with them, but they exist nonetheless) about where we can and can't live, deporting convicted criminals who are citizens of other countries seems to me less controversial than other ways of making the necessary choices.

And this:

it plays right to New Labour's authoritarian tendencies

I'm not buying. One didn't worry about playing to Mussolini's fascist tendencies. New Labour just are plain authoritarian, and Clarke and his likely replacement Reid are merely the current public face of this. Every tactic to embarass, harass and humiliate them out of office is fair game as far as I'm concerned. And if people won't be won over to opposing the national identity register on civil liberties grounds, I see nowt wrong with scaring them with Home Office incompetence and the large bill for its implementation.

26/4/06 13:26  
Blogger Rob Jubb said...


look at this way: one of the problems in attempting to prevent things like ID cards, detention without trial, banning incitement to disruptive political protest, and so on, is precisely that, generally, people are fairly indifferent about the costs of these sorts of things. Furthermore, they seem to systematically over-estimate their benefits.

Contributing to a climate in which that happens by creating a moral panic about funny-coloured foreign criminals running around eating babies or whatever it is that funny-coloured foreign criminals do these days seems to me not only a bad idea ethically but also strategically. Nor would highlighting the simple incompetence, rather than making it an issue about public safety, let them off the hook: "look, there's this stupid, authoritarian piece of legislation on the books they can't enforce - why do we need more?" I suppose a shorter way of saying that is I would have worried about playing to Mussolini's fascist tendencies.

On the point about whether it is a stupid, authoritarian piece of legislation, I think - and this is me being lazy - that it applies to non-native citizens, not citizens of foreign countries. That is, these are people who otherwise have every right to remain. Given that we don't deport native citizens when they commit crimes, and the only difference between these people and native citizens is an accident of birth, I can't see the justification for it. Think of it in terms of transportation.

26/4/06 14:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In retrospect, I'm a bit uncertain myself about seeming to endorse the law by drawing attention to the incompetence of the execution of it; but the pointers to the ID card issue were too good to ignore.

Jarndyce: "Let's face it, depressingly, the vast majority don't give a shit for the civil liberties argument against ID cards. They do however respond to incompetence. Any port in a storm, old bean."

Up to a point. Megalomania being what it is, I'm inclined to believe that thetwo things aren't fully separable.

26/4/06 15:18  
Blogger Jarndyce said...

I give up: I honestly don't know what to think anymore. When it's a supposedly left-wing (sic) government getting bogged down in this sort of thing, then all talk of logic and common sense is shot. It's as if I set out to walk to Glasgow and ended up involved in a military coup in Bulgaria. Given the land as it lies, I may be right, I may be wrong, but what am I doing there in the first place?

26/4/06 16:11  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't there a medical term for death by stroke that goes by something like "gross insult to the brain."? We seem to be more in that territory.

26/4/06 16:15  
Blogger Rob said...

Plus (not wanting to come to the government's defence) murderers don't usually reoffend, most murderers are in for killing someone in a one off, for a reason, they don't usually pose further danger.

26/4/06 19:45  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post. You are the first person I've heard make the point that it is unfair and amounts to punishing them twice. How can it be different from releasing home-grown released criminals who have served their sentences? The question should simply be whether they are safe to release, regardless of their nationality.

27/4/06 14:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw your comment quoted in the Guardian. It's nice to find someone who agrees with me! The media and opposition parties seem to feel that the fact that a criminal comes from another coutry is relevant shows how xenophobic political debate can be. And Clarke's policies usually make me cry.

27/4/06 20:28  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the released offenders had been British nationals, would they not now be on probation? If so, then it's not true that they've 'served their time' - any more than those on probation have.

I suspect the reason deportation is the official sanction for these offenders is because our society - rightly or wrongly - has decided that it won't go to the trouble and expense of rehabilitation in their case.

Nevertheless, the rights or wrongs of deportation don't excuse the Home Secretary. The main criticism he faces, surely, is that his department has proved unable to competently discharge the powers it holds.

2/5/06 14:17  
Blogger Listen Kindley said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/5/06 21:21  

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