- human Rights laws see sex offenders getting six-figure compensation payouts
- One man even received damages despite having been part of a child sex ring
- Brexiteers have long argued leaving the EU is only way to solve the problem
Given the £110,000 compensation payment winging its way towards his bank account, Aliou Bah ought to be a very happy man indeed.
The 28-year-old refugee from Guinea, West Africa, who has two convictions for sexual assault, was awarded the bumper payout last week at Central London County Court after a judge ruled he had been detained for too long by the Home Office while they were trying to deport him.
A jaw-dropping decision indeed, as Judge Nicholas Madge ‘wholeheartedly’ acknowledged when he said that people would believe Bah’s victims — one of whom was only 16 at the time he assaulted her — deserved large payouts, not him.
We shall turn to the Kafka-esque legal shenanigans behind the claim later, but that offensive payout to Bah is just the tip of a very disturbing iceberg.
Given the £110,000 compensation payment winging its way towards his bank account, Aliou Bah ought to be a very happy man indeed
In actuality, an average of 200 such cases come before the courts every year, typically costing the taxpayer £4.5 million in compensation payouts and making a mockery of Home Office pledges to deport foreign nationals who commit serious crimes.
And, as we shall see, most of these compensation claims have their roots in the highly controversial 1998 Human Rights Act which has fuelled an apparently never-ending merry-go-round of ‘unlawful detention’ claims, often pursued by no-win, no-fee solicitors on behalf of immigrants and refugees with criminal records.
The Home Office says there is a huge risk that criminals facing deportation will abscond if they are not detained.
But inevitable delays caused by obfuscating legal challenges can easily lead to a situation whereby a foreign criminal is deemed to have been kept in detention for too long.
In November 2013, sex offender Jumaa Kater Saleh, a 25-year-old from Sudan, won the right to damages for being unlawfully detained for two years despite being previously jailed for four years for being part of a child sex ring which lured girls as young as 13 to a house for sex.
Jumaa Kater Saleh, a 25-year-old from Sudan, won the right to damages for being unlawfully detained for two years despite being previously jailed for four years for being part of a child sex ring
Saleh, who arrived in the UK in the back of a lorry aged 16 in 2004, was refused asylum but given discretionary leave to remain in the UK until he was 18. He committed his crimes just three years later.
Last month, 39-year-old Somalian Abdulrahman Mohammed — a man with a criminal career spanning 20 years — was awarded £78,500 after his claim for unlawful detention was upheld at the High Court in London.
Mohammed, who lives in West London and has 30 convictions, has been jailed 13 times for crimes including affray, knife possession, assaults and robberies.
He was detained for 445 days too long while the Home Office attempted to deport him. His lawyers took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that as a boy in the Somalian capital Mogadishu, he had suffered torture and ‘unimaginable barbarity’, leaving him with post-traumatic stress disorder. The UK was ordered not to remove him from the country ‘until further notice’.
Despite acknowledging that he was ‘a prolific and violent offender’ and saying he could ‘well understand why the Home Secretary might wish to deport him’, Judge Edward Pepperall QC ruled that Mohammed had been ‘falsely imprisoned’ and was ‘entitled to justice in a civilised society’.
The same verdict was delivered in relation to Naseer Chawki, a failed asylum-seeker claiming to be a 34-year-old from Iran, who was jailed for ‘revolting’ sex crimes on a crowded London Underground train and was placed in immigration detention for more than four years while the Home Office battled to deport him.
malian Abdulrahman Mohammed — a man with a criminal career spanning 20 years — was awarded £78,500 after his claim for unlawful detention was upheld at the High Court in London.
He had previously been given a three-year jail term in November 2008 after being convicted of two sex assaults and possessing a false identity document.
His deportation was delayed as Home Office officials, who believed he was from North Africa, spent thousands trying to discover which country he really came from, even commissioning language analysis reports to prove his identity.
The final sum he received is not known, but the average payout to claimants is in the region of £27,000. He was released from immigration detention in late March last year — but made to wear a monitoring tag — after attempts to deport him failed.
In isolation, of course, these cases might be viewed as an aberration, but a quick glance into the annals of UK immigration law turns up countless more.
In August 2011, failed Algerian asylum-seeker Amin Sino, who committed more than 25 crimes within six years of arriving in the UK, was awarded ‘substantial’ damages for unlawful detention, despite the fact he had misled Home Office officials about his identity in a bid to thwart deportation and had ‘proved to be a risk to the community’.
The judge, John Howell QC, said that while the public would be ‘outraged’ by his ruling, an immigrant’s refusal to co-operate with authorities was not justification for detention under UK law.
And the list goes on, with criminals continuing to remain in the UK while the deportation process drags on. There’s the 41-year-old Somalian refugee, who sexually assaulted a child and slashed another victim’s face with a mirror, who was awarded £100,000 last year for unlawful detention after being ‘wrongly held’ for 20 months from April 2013.
Or the Romanian murderer who last year won a five-figure sum after being unlawfully detained at Dover Immigration Removal Centre from March to July 2015.
The 48-year-old had been jailed for 12 years in his homeland after beating a 70-year-old man to death with a hammer.
He came to the UK after gaining early release in 2008, and was detained after the Home Office learned of his murder conviction.
But attempts to deport him were delayed while his lawyers argued that forcing him to leave the UK would breach his human rights (he reportedly was an alcoholic and suffered from anxiety), meaning he could mount his compensation claim for unlawful detention.
On top of these payouts, tax-payers are also ultimately footing the bill for all the lawyers, translators and forensic experts often drafted in to prove or disprove the claims of foreign offenders.
David Wood — former deputy CEO of the UK Borders Agency and former Director General of Immigration Enforcement — told me this week of the impossible situation faced by Home Office officials when they are trying to deport a foreign offender.
‘The law says you can only detain an individual in order to remove them from the country. They’ve already served their sentence for their crime so you can’t punish them again,’ he explained.
‘The law also says that the removal has to be within a reasonable time — but the Home Office doesn’t know what that period of time is because different judges give different rulings. Officials are making the best judgments they can to protect the public.’
So what kind of system allows foreign criminals to run rings around the Home Office, not to mention the judges whose hands are tied when dealing with them?
At the heart of this absurd state of affairs is a clash between the Government and the European Convention on Human Rights which was enshrined in UK law by Labour’s Human Rights Act. The Act frequently conflicts with legislation put in place to deal with foreign national offenders, and is regarded by many to have paralysed attempts by the Home Office to rid the UK of foreign criminals.
According to the UK Borders Act 2007, for example, foreign national offenders who have been sentenced to 12 months or more in prison must be removed from Britain after their release.
But deportation is a lengthy, often drawn-out process. Foreign criminals frequently complicate court proceedings by mounting endless legal challenges. Foreign embassies also cause delays by refusing to issue their citizens the travel documents that would allow them to return home.
Given that there is no fixed legal definition of what amounts to ‘too long’ when it comes to detention, the Home Office is caught in a Catch-22 situation of nightmarish proportions.
Aliou Bah, whose case was referred to at the start of this article, came to the UK in 2007 from the Guinean capital of Conakry to join his refugee father, but quickly squandered the opportunities available to him here.
Four years after his arrival, he pleaded guilty at Winchester Crown Court to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl and was jailed for 18 months in May 2011.
Just three years later, he was at Southampton Crown Court after another sexual assault. This time he was jailed for two years.
Under the UK Borders Act 2007, Bah’s offence made him due for automatic deportation. Theresa May, who was then Home Secretary, signed a deportation order in December 2011 and, fearing he might abscond, Bah was held in immigration detention for two periods — 2012 to 2013 and 2014 to 2015 — totalling 21 months.
Throughout that time, some of the UK’s sharpest human rights lawyers were fighting his case on the basis that he was a refugee.
Another factor which strengthened Bah’s hand was that immigration officials in Guinea refuse to process travel documents for those who do not want to return there.
In court last week, Judge Madge made clear that offenders such as Bah should be detained only if there is a realistic prospect that they will be deported — ‘indefinite’ detention undermines a sacred tenet of the Human Rights Act.
But in Bah’s case, said the judge, it was clear there was no reasonable prospect of deportation. Indeed, no one has been successfully deported to the West African country since 2006, such is the lack of co-operation from its Embassy.
He has since been stripped of his refugee status and served with a deportation order. The Home Office says it will ‘not give up’ trying to get him out of the country.
Bah cut a surprisingly gloomy figure when he answered the door at his four-bedroom council home in Southampton this week.
He told the Mail: ‘People don’t want to know about me — they just think about my crime’, and claimed: ‘They think I’m a bad guy . . . but I know I’m innocent.’
Judge Nicholas Madge ‘wholeheartedly’ acknowledged when he said that people would believe Bah’s victims — one of whom was only 16 at the time he assaulted her — deserved large payouts, not hi,
Others might argue that his huge compensation payout turns justice on its head and is an insult to the women he assaulted.
‘The public will look at this case and conclude the law is an ass,’ said Conservative MP Peter Bone.
‘It is very difficult to understand why a sex attacker should not be sent home, let alone win a vast amount of public money. If he has come to the UK, he should live by the rules of the UK.’
Dr David Green of the think-tank Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society, argues that the Home Office is in an impossible situation. If it detains foreign criminals, it risks further mammoth compensation claims in the future. If it releases them while seeking their deportation, it faces accusations of placing the public at risk.
‘I don’t see what else the Government can do,’ he said. ‘This is a clear case of punishing the Home Office for protecting the public.’
In 2014, the Home Office was forced to admit that it had lost track of 758 dangerous foreign criminals awaiting deportation.
Among those who had gone missing were ‘high harm’ individuals who were at risk of committing the gravest crimes.
Data published just this month gives a clear indication of how dire the situation has become.
In September, 5,933 offenders from overseas were walking the streets of Britain — the highest number since 2012.
In the third quarter of 2017, a total of 533 overseas offenders — including those from the Caribbean, Africa and Eastern Europe — were released onto the streets, despite being under a deportation order.
Of these, only five were successfully booted out of the country. Another three were given leave to remain. The rest delayed deportation by mounting legal challenges.
Such statistics make clear the desperate need for a radical overhaul of immigration law.
Brexit campaigners have long argued that it is only by leaving the EU and taking back control of our own laws that the problem can effectively be dealt with.
Prime Minister Theresa May last year expressed her wish to quit the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), saying it ‘can bind the hands of Parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights’.
But any plans to withdraw have been put on hold until the Brexit process is complete.
Her predecessor, David Cameron, had previously pledged to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights but remain a signatory to the ECHR.
David Wood, the former CEO of the UK Borders Agency, believes it’s time that the Government got tough.
‘Some of the countries that are refusing to issue travel documents are in receipt of generous amounts of international aid,’ he says. ‘But the Government doesn’t link these two factors.’
For the time being, then, the system which has enabled Aliou Bah to line his pockets with tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money stays put, despite being in desperate need of an overhaul.
And until it is reformed, it is only a matter of time before further compensation payouts are doled out to other foreign offenders who are simply laughing in the face of British justice.