Men waiting to be put on a deportation flight

Home Office Considers Cutting Jail Term Needed for Deportation

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As 2021 begins, little seems new in terms of the Home Office’s determination to increase its number of deportations. Its latest plan would entail deporting non-UK citizens that have been given a six-month jail sentence.

The measure would be a part of the ‘Sovereign Borders Bill’ which is likely to be published within the next few months, according to a report in The Times over the weekend. The Home Office also wants to increase the number of deportation flights this year, the newspaper said.

The move would represent a significant amendment to Labour’s 2007 UK Border Act, according to which a person would need to be jailed for at least a year before being considered for deportation.

The name of the bill also echoes Australia’s ‘Operation Sovereign Borders,’ a joint military and navy organisation that was set up around eight years ago to prevent arrivals of asylum seekers by sea.

Protestors against last December's deportation flight to Jamaica
Protestors against the first planned deportation flight to Jamaica outside Downing street last February []

The government is a fan of Australian immigration policies, having adopted a similar points-based immigration system via its new Immigration Bill which came into effect on Friday just as ‘freedom of movement’ for UK citizens in Europe came to an end.

The new deportation plan was predictably cheered by right-wing media, with the Daily Mail choosing to showcase six men that had committed serious crimes – listed under the ‘killers to sex fiends we’ve sent home.’

But lawyers have also highlighted that a six-month sentence doesn’t necessarily reflect a serious crime. The new measure could see crimes such as petty theft, shoplifting, or driving offences making people eligible for deportation.

“You don’t have to commit a particularly serious crime to receive 6 months’ imprisonment. You don’t even have to be sentenced at the Crown Court – under [Home Secretary] Patel’s plans, sentences passed at magistrates’ courts, in conditions of abject chaos, could lead to automatic deportation,” The Secret Barrister tweeted.

Last year, the Home Office presented a number of new immigration measures that alarmed human rights activists, including holding hundreds of recent asylum seekers in former army camps deemed as inadequate by local authorities and charities, and deporting non-UK citizens found to be sleeping rough.

Its deportation flights have also been criticised for disregarding the human rights of deportees by separating parents from children in some cases, or deporting people who have spent most of their adult lives in the UK such as those related to the Windrush generation.

In the cases of newly arrived asylum seekers, rights activists have also condemned poor access to legal advice amidst a seeming attempt to rush through deportations before the start of the year and the expiry of the UK’s capacity to use Dublin III Regulations as a way of returning asylum seekers to other ‘safe’ countries where they first arrived.

In early December, a deportation flight to Jamaica departed with only 13 of the original 50 people that the Home Office had sought to deport, following eleventh-hour legal interventions and a campaign backed by human rights groups, Labour MPs, and public figures.

During 2020, Patel made several verbal attacks on ‘lefty’ lawyers over interventions in deportations. A few days after the deportation flight to Jamaica, the government also announced it was launching a review of the 1998 Human Rights Act, which will be reportedly aimed at curtailing interventions in deportation cases on human rights grounds.

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