He’s a naughty boy, and he took over from a naughty girl.
This week saw a former registrar of the University of Bath, Karl Woodgett, convicted of the offence of “conspiracy to create false instruments” – create fake degrees in return for sexual favours from two Cameroonian women.
The fact that the UK Border agency was prosecuting suggests that these women were illegal in the United Kingdom. Mr Woodgett escaped a jail sentence and proved that there is one law for a British Citizen caught committing this kind of offence, and one law for Foreign Nationals. Those of us who work in refugee and human rights law know full well that had Mr Woodgett been of a non- EU background, he would have been given an automatic sentence of 12 months with automatic deportation at the end of it.
Well, say the righteously minded readers of the Daily Mail, foreigners who come here and commit crimes deserve harsh prison sentences and automatic deportation. Except of course that it is a fundamental principle of our democracy and the rule of law that everyone is entitled to a fair hearing and equitable treatment by the courts.
Consider the following conundrum. You are a middle class Iranian student involved in Iran’s Green Movement. The Basij militia have arrested your friends and raped and tortured them in prison. You know it’s only a matter of time before they come for you. So, with the help of your family, you contact the shadowy network of transporters and agents to get you to a safe Northern European country. It is these agents who decided where you are going. You travel to Turkey overland, where you meet with the Agent who gives you your plane tickets to the UK and a fake Portuguese ID. You know to claim asylum as soon as you land to the first Immigration Officer you see. At Immigration in Heathrow you present your card and state it is fake. You state your real name, nationality, and reason for coming to the UK and ask for protection from the British government.
What you didn’t know was that under the UK Borders Act 2007 the Labour Government, hoping to boost the number of foreigners it could deport automatically from these shores (regardless of their reasons for coming) had created the offence of using a false instrument (essentially a fake ID or passport), which carries an automatic 12 month custodial sentence.
The harshness of this sentence means that our genuine refugee faces the prospect of, having fled a regime which wanted to imprison him, being banged up in a British jail on arrival, and face deportation proceedings at the end of his sentence, all for coming here and seeking our protection under the Refugee Convention. The same refugee coming overland hiding a lorry will, on arrival, be accommodated immediately and dealt with under the Asylum System.
An immigration officer screens you and takes details of your asylum claim. Then he tells you that “the asylum matter has been dealt with” and the duty criminal defence solicitor – who often knows nothing about refugee law, and you are placed under police caution (which in the UK does not involve the right to remain silent). Your solicitor tells you to make no comment during the following police and criminal evidence interview, which is then used by the Home Office to prosecute you for using a fake id.
You do not realise that you are having two sets of interviews for two areas of law, and so the refugee defense is never raised in the criminal matter, neither at the PACE interview, nor later at court (your defence solicitor tells you to plead guilty, not realising or caring that this will involve you being held in a prison long after your Release date has passed in Immigration Detention) and before you know it, the doors of Her Majesty’s Prison close behind you. Your asylum matter never comes to light, and having fled unjust imprisonment in Iran, you find that the British State has finished the job for the Iranian authorities.
Our jails are full of foreign national prisoners who have been imprisoned for false document offences. Using a false document to work in the UK is not viewed as harshly as entering the country on one, conspiracy to make false documents should be the greater offence attracting the higher sentence, but rarely does. No, the outrage of the British state is reserved for those who dare to enter on false documents at airports, where refugees are rarely allowed, or given the opportunity, to rely on the allowed defence of being in need of International Protection.
We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. But, if we are incapably of feeling shame, compassion or sympathy for refugees treated in this way, we can at least consider that we cannot afford this system. If you wonder why the delinquents who stole your car and chucked bricks through your window have not been arrested and brought to trial, it could be because our criminal justice system is clogged up and unable to cope with the barrage of invented strict liability offences dreamed up by Whitehall mandarins to boost their deportation statistics.
If you wonder why our prisons are overcrowded and why we need to build more, we might want to consider that a good many detained there do not need to be there. It costs a few grand a year to accommodate an asylum seeker in the community under the National Asylum Support frame work. To place the same person in prison costs upwards of 40,000. These people are no danger to the public, they are unlikely to reoffend, and have not sought to deceive anyone. It is no surprise that in the prisons that I and my colleagues visit, the majority of those on suicide and self harm watch are foreign nationals.
But the thing that jars most of all this the case I mentioned at the start of this article. Here we have a white, British, professional, in a position of trust, who uses his position to lure and then exploit desperate women into satisfying his sexual proclivities. The judge considers that he has lost everything, his job, marriage, professional reputation etc, but I wonder how much his victims have lost in comparison? Have they lost their liberty? Their families? Their dignity went a long time ago, because the fate of women who are brought in or who enter the UK illegally often involves exploitation of the worst order.
I wonder, knowing what I do, where those Cameroonian women are now. I wonder if these girls might not be on SASH watch in some prison or detention centre somewhere. It would not surprise me, for I suspect that, for using a false instruments, they will have been prosecuted under the full force of the 2007 Act and may be in prison as I write along with the thousands of others who do not need to be there and whose imprisonment we should feel heartily ashamed about.
So while our white, male dominated legal system lets Mr Woodget off with a Carry On style wink wink nudge nudge, a snigger here and there, we might want to meditate on the thousands who are languishing at our expense and with our consent, and for which we are responsible – including genuine Refugees and victims of trafficking, forced labour, and sexual exploitation.
We can argue that it is the centralised system which is cruel and inflexible, not those who run it, or who pay for it through their taxes, or consent to its abuse. To my mind the imprisonment of so many who do not justly deserve to be there smacks of obvious and deliberate government policy. It will not be, but it should be, a scandal, but no one cares because who cares about a bunch of illegals? We do not call them Refugees of course. We call them clandestines, or illegals.
I cast my mind back to Oscar Wilde’s comments on the Criminal Justice System in his letters to the Daily Chronicle. Evil is not usually the perverse form of egoism typified by your Hitlers and Osmas. Ordinary evil is simply stupidity, and wherever you have centralisation, and bureaucracy, we have stupidity. Right now, I think we would be hard pushed to find a government organisation which fitted Wilde’s definition of ordinary evil more than the Home Office.
But of course one get’s laughed at when one uses the word “evil” in legal circles. So let’s just leave it that Labour’s Home Scretary is a naughty boy for tolerating these serious abuses of fundemental liberty in our name, just like his predecessor – that naughty girl who bought porn for her husband with taxpayers money – and what they need is some discipline themselves. Although I confess I am sceptical that a Tory Home Scretary would care enough to end the injustice, expense, and abuses of this current administration.