Immigration debate over powers to deport foreign criminals

Queues at UK border controls Government and rebel Tory MPs have clashed over powers to strip foreign-born criminals of citizenship

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Home Secretary Theresa May has tabled an eleventh-hour amendment to her own Immigration Bill which is designed to strengthen powers to strip nationality from people suspected of involvement in terrorism.

It comes amid attempts by a cross-party group of backbenchers to make it easier to deport some foreign-born criminals. So what's the difference between the two proposals - and does it actually matter?

The background to all of this is the tension within the Conservative Party (and some parts of Labour) over the role of the European Convention of Human Rights - and the Strasbourg court that oversees it.

Article Eight of the convention, which is part of British law, says everyone has a right to a private and family life.

The state is perfectly entitled to ignore your right to a family life where there is an obvious public interest in doing so. If a judge says that you need to go to prison, that's where you will go - children or not.

But deportation of foreign nationals is more complicated where they can prove that they have a genuine connection to the UK because their children live here.

Critics such as Tory MP Dominic Raab say too many foreign criminals cling on to the UK by playing the children trump card, backed by the European Court of Human Rights.

So his proposal removes the legal requirement for the home secretary to take into account a foreign criminal's Article Eight rights before ordering them out of the UK.

It says ministers should only decide against deportation where the individual faces a threat of death, torture or - and this is the important part - it would cause "manifest and overwhelming harm to his children".

So in essence, Mr Raab's amendment aims to tip the public interest balance in the home secretary's favour when judges consider an Article Eight case.

However, there is a real question about whether it would actually work in practice because claimants could still try to mount an Article Eight appeal - and judges would be bound to look at related cases, including previous European judgements.

It's an extremely complicated area of law because there is so much at stake for both the state and the individual.

The home secretary's late amendment appears to be an attempt to meet some of the backbench concerns by offering to do more to deal with one part of this conundrum.

Her amendment does not specifically mention the word terrorism because it aims to strengthen her powers to strip nationality from people suspected, although not necessarily convicted, of very serious wrongdoing.

Home Secretary Theresa May Home Secretary Theresa May's Immigration Bill is designed to strengthen powers to strip nationality from people suspected of involvement in terrorism

The home secretary can already remove nationality from a terrorism suspect. These cases go through one of the most secretive courts in Europe where very little is actually heard in public, including by the suspect themselves.

The most famous target of these powers was the cleric Abu Hamza - although he ultimately clung on to his British passport before he was extradited to the United States.

The proposed new power tries to get around the "Abu Hamza problem" and a recent similar Supreme Court ruling that went against the government.

The British Nationality Act 1981 says the home secretary cannot leave someone stateless.

Her proposal says that exception would not apply if she "is satisfied that the deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person... has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom".

What are the "vital interests" of the United Kingdom? That may be for judges to consider if and when this ever becomes law - but it is a safe bet to assume that it does not cover a lot of low or medium-level criminality.

In other words, it looks like the new power could only be used in fairly exceptional cases - and only against someone who is a dual-national - those who can get a passport from another country - or people who sought citizenship after coming to live in the UK.

It would have no affect on British-born terrorists. They would still have to be dealt with at home.

Dominic Casciani Article written by Dominic Casciani Dominic Casciani Home affairs correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Truth logic sustainability the final frontiers @ 268:
    "I'm an African, my ancestors travelled to these isles thousands of years ago as did the rest of the white population."

    I'm English & a monarchist.

    I decide who enters my house.

    If you've got no identity & don't care who enters your house then that's fine.

    But don't label me with some PC..obia or mock just because I'm different to you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.


    Nothing wrong with acting consistently on people found guilty of something.

    It would be wrong though on people just being *suspected* of something.
    It can undermine the rule of law, freedom and democracy, just as it did in the 1930s in Germany where suspicion was enough to let you disappear...


  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    You can tell a Philippine or Mexican driver in USA because they drive at 10Mph under the limit and signal at every junction, why because there probably illegal and have no driving licence if pulled over and no ID there arrested and then deported, "land of the free" yep they stay that way because they keep the worst of humanity out, commit any offence and you out of here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    Anyone who emigrated here legally or illegally are our guest and should as as such, if you break our laws then expect to face prosecution and deportation that is only fair.
    If a dinner guest stole money when your back was turned you never ask them back into your home so why put up with keeping criminals and terrorists in our country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    Criminals? Get rid. No matter where they are from or their circumstances. If you are a criminal you will get no support or sympathy from me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    I'm an African, my ancestors travelled to these isles thousands of years ago as did the rest of the white population.

    The real criminals are those who support the bankers & dictate that ordinary people should pay the financial/economic/social consequences of their criminal negligence & terrorise their victims with bedroom tax & throwing others out of care homes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    Immigrants better not step on the cracks in the pavement, OR ELSE,

    suspicions will be raised

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    Seems a lot of people don't understand what Xenophobic means.

    If every British Born, working class, uneducated person took a job that was advertised that they felt was beneath them there woudn't be jobs for the immigrantts to take.
    1,000,000 unemployed 18 -24 year olds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    Residency and citizenship are two entirely different things. Just because someone has a right to stay in the UK for a period of time set by their visa, shouldn't automatically entitle them to the full range of protections aforded to citizens of this country. Perhaps we should introduce "provisional passports"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    ARTICLE 8 of the ECHR does not give an absolute right for family life. That right can be overridden by the Government if necessary "in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, etc".

    Perhaps the real question is why judges seem to ignore this qualification?

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    Was shocked at the stupidity of the panel on BBC Question Time last night, the usual pro asylum (I.E economic migrants) rubbish and the old classic 'we have a proud record of welcoming in refugees' from the Labour woman. Yes, love and we see it every day in our streets. Thanks to 1997-2010, the country was changed forever by you! Time to take it back!

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    Sure,you have a right to a family life. Take them with you when you are deported.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    if she "is satisfied that the deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person... has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom".

    Sounds vague enough for this to be a terrible terrible idea

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    Our posts demonstrate that if we want a fact to support our prejudice, we just make one up.
    Are you sure our country is full to overflowing with asylum-seeking, benefit-grabbing, legal aid-abusing, unwashed foreign criminals?
    I just don't see it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    #234 Essex man & UKIP supporter (enough said):
    Until we get out of the EU we will have this farcical situation.

    This is NOTHING to do with the EU - the European Court of Human Rights is not an EU institution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    The BBC Online is turning into the Daily Mail Online.
    Now for some shock and awe!
    uh... I'm out of both today, pulled an Italian guy last night, woop!
    Why is this relevant? Because I say it is relevant

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    Surely, if you don't want to risk deportation, then don't commit the crime, then you won't have to go through the hassle of fighting your case.

    As for playing the children card. Surely, if your parent has been convicted of terrorism, murder or anything else serious, the child will be better off without such a dangerous person and influence in their lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    What the supporters of these asylum seeking foreign criminals don't seem to understand is that under international law you can only legally be an asylum seeker from when you leave your country of origin until you enter the FIRST safe country.

    So any "asylum seeker" entering this country from anywhere in Europe is NOT genuine & should be immediately returned to the country they have just left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    250 qqpp
    I don't know if I'm alone in thinking that anybody allowed into the UK has MORE of a responsibility to be a good citizen

    I think there are plenty others who take this view, I can see the point of it, but you could argue that a local committing crimes against their own society is worse.

    At any rate a knife driven into my stomach will hurt the same - regardless of who did it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    249.Y Sais
    18 Minutes ago
    Many foreign-born criminals were not criminals when they entered the UK


    Yawn yawn, I do not dispute that, my point is that too many immigrant criminals ARE allowed into UK, which is why international crime gangs are doing so well in UK


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