Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Ignore the shiny new thing

As Blair and Clarke attempt the standard New Labour "moving on" gambit, here are some facts worth bearing in mind.

Charles Clarke became Home Secretary in December 2004.

Under the law, the Home Office has a duty to consider whether a foreign prisoner should be deported and apply for the relevant deportation order where appropriate.

The sentencing judge can independently issue a recommendation to deport during sentencing but the final decision rests with the Home Office.

Of the 1,023 foreign prisoners we know of who've been released where the Home Office failed to follow this procedure, 160 had been recommended for deportation by the sentencing judge.

These 160 foreign nationals were not deported because the Home Office did not consider their cases despite the recommendation of the sentencing judge. The Home Office just released them at the end of their prison sentence.

Of the remaining 863 foreign nationals released without being considered for deportation, it's impossible to say how many would actually have been deported if the Home Office had considered their cases in the normal way. This is because the Home Office didn't consider these cases in the way they were obliged to.

Many warning had been given about the failings of the system since 2002. The current Home Secretary acknowledges that he became aware that the system was failing in July 2005.

Since then, a further 288 foreign prisoners have been released without being considered for deportation. This averages out at 36 per month, a marked increase on the average over the total period for which figures are available.

When this became public knowledge, the Home Secretary assured us that he was proceeding energetically to deal with the problem. The competence with which this process is being undertaken is highly questionable.

Before this became public knowledge, Clarke undeniably did very little, if anything, to address the problem. He argues that this was due to inertia at the Home Office and the nature of the long standing problem.

After this became public knowledge, urgent steps were taken to address the problem. After a week or so of energetic action, Clarke now assures us that the situation is well on the way to being under control. The inertia at the Home Office seems to have been overcome in some unspecified way.

To summarise then, Charles Clarke was well aware that the Home Office was failing in its duty with regard to the law for several months. During that time, many foreign prisoners continued to be released without being considered for deportation. Rather than pursuing the matter energetically from the moment he found out about it, the Home Secretary appears to have done almost nothing. The problem was not addressed until the matter entered the public domain and became headline news.

We're then asked to believe that a problem which Clarke failed to address in the previous nine months can now being satisfactorily addressed in a matter of a few days. And that the law needs to be changed.

I've got two questions.
  1. Why was it not settled in this way last July when the Home Secretary first learned of the problem?
  2. What is the motivation behind today's announcement that the government proposes to make changes to the perfectly sensible (but extrordinarily incompetently enforced) existing law?
In the absence of honest answers to these questions from the government, I'm refusing to be moved on. For several months Clarke knowingly failed to fulfil his responsibilities and took almost no action to rectify the situation. He should resign.

I won't be commenting on Blair's latest headline grabber except to say that I'm not easily distracted by trinkets and baubles. Proper journalists, and opposition types might want to consider a similar approach.

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