- Posted by: Valerie Vaz MP
- Category: News
As a result of a sensitive case I wanted to raise with the Minister, the conflict between the Government’s policy of deporting people who have been convicted of a serious crime and making sure victims come first in the Criminal Justice system. I applied for and was granted a debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday 9 May 2023. The title of the debate was: That the House has considered victims’ and offenders’ rights in the criminal justice system. Here is my speech in full:
It is a pleasure to serve with you as Chair, Mr Pritchard, and to open this debate. I thank Mr Speaker for granting it.
Mr Pritchard, I am sure you will know that every once in a while a case comes along that captures the reason we go into politics: to right a wrong that grabs our sense of justice—that makes us want to strive with all our might and use every single tool we have to ensure that justice is done. It might start with a case, but that case can go to the heart of the misapplication of Government policy, flawed decision making and the possible misapplication of the Human Rights Act, which in this case has left the victim/survivor with fewer rights and in a worse position than the offender. Highlighting case studies is always useful because policies can be changed as a result, and I hope there will be a review not just of the case I will discuss but of how Government policy is applied.
I will briefly set out the background. It was 26 June 2014. A young BAME woman who worked in a public-facing role in the public sector was trying to help a person get into work. It was the second time she had seen the person. She called him over, and as soon as he came to her desk he pulled her by the hair and stabbed her with an eight-inch knife. She said, “I was covered in blood, hysterical losing consciousness until the police and ambulance were called; started to lose my sight and hearing; I thought I was dying.”
She was then taken to hospital, where she was in theatre for over two hours. She had 22 stitches in her neck and was told the wounds were 2 mm from her main artery. She also had three operations on her hand.
Added to the situation, there was a delay in the criminal justice system. It was reported that the police used to pick up the offender for being drunk and disorderly because he wanted food and shelter, which he would get from the police or in the cells. When he first came to this country, he had a septic abscess removed from his stomach, but later wanted to sue the hospital because he thought staff had removed his kidney; they had not, but he engaged solicitors to make a claim against the hospital.
The criminal justice system held the first hearing in the woman’s case on 2 October 2014. The offender did not enter a plea and wanted a medical assessment. On 14 November, the same thing happened: a psychiatrist asked for more time. On 12 December, no plea was entered and the hearing was adjourned until 6 February 2015. That date was moved to 20 January, when he entered a plea of not guilty. The trial was set for April, but the judge was so incensed by the delay that he brought it forward to the end of January, and there was a three-day hearing in which the victim gave evidence. The offender entered a plea of not guilty, but after a very short time the jury found him guilty of attempted murder. He showed no remorse and was sentenced to an indefinite hospital order, but despite the fact that the judge made an order on 15 May 2015 authorising the offender’s detention in hospital and restricting his discharge without limit of time, he was conditionally discharged by the mental health tribunal; worse—he would not be recalled even if he broke the conditions, because he had not come from prison.
I will briefly set out the offender’s immigration status. In 2004, he claimed asylum. It was refused. The appeal was allowed and he was recognised as a refugee in 2008. In April 2013, he was granted indefinite leave to remain. I have raised this case on a number of occasions with a series of Ministers, who have reaffirmed the Government’s policy that it is a stated objective to protect the public by removing foreign nationals who have committed criminal offences. In a letter to me, one Minister said that, “all restricted patients who are also foreign nationals must be considered for deportation before their restrictions are lifted.”
In 2018, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes)—the then Minister, who I thank for all her help—met me, the survivor and the survivor’s family. She took proactive steps to look at ways to deport the offender, and wrote to us saying that he was being considered for deportation.
According to Gov.uk,“Government policy is to pursue deportation on grounds of criminality where the person…has been convicted in the UK or overseas of an offence which has caused serious harm”
I am sure you will agree, Mr Pritchard, that attempted murder is a serious harm. There is a prima facie case for deportation, so it is not clear why the letter of the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North has not been followed. Remember—the victim was born and raised here and worked in the public sector, helping people—no matter who they were. One would have thought that she, too, has rights. But the trial was delayed, and, as the victim said, the offender was given access to a psychiatrist, benefits and a place to stay, while she had post-traumatic stress disorder and struggled to access support. In fact, she said that she had to pay for that support herself.
The latest letter from the Immigration Minister rubs salt in the wounds, as he says that the offender has rights under article 3 of the Human Rights Act, on the prohibition of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment —and that human rights here will affect human rights in other countries. I am sure there is case law in this regard, but we obviously do not have time to go into it. The letter set out no reasons, so it is difficult to see how the Minister came to that conclusion, which would mean that under Government policy no one can ever be deported anywhere, even to a third country. Is that the Government’s policy? In the case that I have mentioned, the offender cannot be deported to his original country because it is in flux, but the Home Office has never answered the question of whether we are the third country. So far this case has not followed Government policy. The offender has more rights than the victim under the Human Rights Act. Can the Minister tell us whether she has rights under article 2—the right to life, which is also an absolute right? The former Minister, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North, said that she would speak to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees so as to remove the offender’s status.
Effectively, the Government are saying that the offender, who has tried to remove someone’s right to life under article 2, will gain article 3 rights. Do the Government have a policy for foreign national offenders who have committed a serious offence such as attempted murder? Can they be deported under current Government policy? Are an offender’s rights under article 3 greater than those of a victim under article 2? Is the threshold for engaging article 3 so low that no other decision, under any other legislation or Government policy, can be given in this case? I hope, in the interests of justice, that there are grounds for review or, indeed, for ministerial discretion.
We have an offender who is free to move around and a victim who lives in fear. The offender currently has more rights than the victim. I know that ministerial responses can vary, but I consider the latest decision to be flawed. Will the Minister look at this case and at the implications of Government policy and of competing rights under articles 2 and 3? The Government may have to review their policy and say that no one can ever be deported because they have article 3 rights, even if those rights have not been engaged and alternative approaches could be taken. For instance, someone who has committed an offence could be deported to the first or second country.
There must be a way for justice to prevail in this case. The courts have decided on the case, but why do the Government consider the victim and her rights to be secondary to those of the offender? The victim—a survivor of attempted murder—is crying out for justice.”
The Minister gave me some assurances and agreed to consult with the Minister who has been dealing with the case. My constituent like other victims need to know that their interests and justice is served before the offenders.