Foreign National Prisoners: an easy media target


Last week saw the publication of John Vine’s report on how the UK Border Agency ‘manage’ foreign national prisoners.  The UKBA’s Independent Chief Inspector commented on the improvement in UKBA’s monitoring of foreign national prisoners (following the 2006 ‘foreign prisoners fiasco‘), but has some clear criticisms of UKBA’s decision making, particularly in the “disparity” between the courts’ and UKBA’s “interpretation of human rights”.

Entirely unpredictably, this is not quite how the majority of the print media chose to represent the story.

Not much more needs to be said beyond the Daily Mail’s headline: ‘4,000 foreign criminals set free to fight deportation including murderers, rapists and child sex offenders’ (I think even the Daily Mail headline generator would have struggled to come up with that).  But this risibly biased portrayal of the story was all too widespread.

The Sun and the Express took the opportunity to throw their weight behind Theresa May’s personal crusade against human rights.  May is quoted as saying that  the “right to a family life was not “absolute””.   While this is, legally, completely correct (for once she’s done her homework), it’s very misleading. It suggests that it’s those pesky courts not understanding the law getting in the way of the sterling work done by the brave foot soldiers at UKBA.  The courts, and certainly UKBA, do not treat Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights as absolute.  Each case is looked at in terms of individual merit, and a balance is struck between the individuals right to a family and private life in the UK – and the courts are very tough on this – and the public interest of that individual remaining in the UK.  John Vine makes this very point in the opening line of his report: “Foreign national prisoners are a diverse group of people coming from many different countries, having committed a range of offences and each having their own individual ties to the UK.”

While the Telegraph manages a somewhat more balanced account, it’s left to non-mainstream media and organisations who work with the individuals at the centre of these scare-mongering, vote-pandering stories to create the forum for informed, responsible discussion of the issues.

As our friends at AVID commented, an over-looked aspect of the report is the continued detention of foreign national prisoners after their release.  The report reveals that 97% of the sample of foreign national prisoners covered by the report were still in detention, despite having completed their sentences.  27% of them had been held (under immigration powers, subsequent to completion of sentence) for over 12 months.  This, despite the presumption to release in both UKBA policy and immigration law.

The report is yet another indictment of poor-decision making by UKBA.   In the year leading up to February 2011, a third of appeals by foreign national prisoners against the intention to deport were successful, at a cost of  £480,000.  Instead of trying to divert attention by feeding an anxious public and hysteria-fuelled newspapers hate-speak about immigration, the government should address the failings within the lumbering leviathan of the Home Office, and the massive costs that bad decisions and prolonged detention incur.


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