Foreign National Prisoners – the Forgotten/Ignored Prison Population
Yesterday, I spent the day hearing about the problems faced by Foreign National Prisoners (FNPs) and the advice workers who support them. The main problems which came across quite clearly are that the prisoners have no one to take on their legal complaints, most of which are the result of State action or inaction.
It must be remembered that most FNP’s are not asylum seekers, most are serving a prison sentence and would like to return home at the end of their term. For example, the Foreign National Prisoners who have confiscation order proceedings running against them. In many cases, these proceedings have been running for over 2 years. The FNPs have served their sentence and wish to return to their home country but can’t do so as the State won’t agree to their release due to the pending confiscation proceedings. There is no Legal Aid available to support these FNPs, and therefore they have to languish in jail until the State can get its act together on the confiscation applications.
The 20 year old criminal defendants who found that they were sentenced to 12 months or more in custody, but their co-defendants who were equally culpable received lesser custody. They wish to appeal against their sentence, but can’t find a criminal lawyer prepared to take on their appeal due to the fact that any reduction in sentence will only be a month or so. The reality is that this month can be the difference between deportation for not for these FNP. The criminal lawyers don’t appreciate the deportation rules in relation to FNPs.
The FNP who had a piece of family jewelry taken from him when he was detained in the police station. He subsequently requested its return, and was told that it had been auctioned as that police authority only kept a person’s property for a year. The police authority had written to the FNP at the address he had given when arrested, but since that date he had been detained either on remand or as a serving prisoner. He wishes to bring an action against the police, but is unable to do so from inside his prison cell and without legal aid, or any money to pay a solicitor.
The male charged with false document offenses who told his lawyer that he was being forced to travel into the country to work in a food takeaway, and had been handed the documents just before they arrived at the port and told to show them. His family had been threatened and he felt he had no option but to travel to the UK and undertake the work. The police and his lawyer determined that he was a smuggled person and not a victim of human trafficking because ‘human trafficking victims come in on the back of a lorry’. He is detained in prison, awaiting deportation, desperately worried that his family are being punished, and his traffickers remain at large, released by the police due to lack of evidence..
There are numerous young detainees who have realised for the first time, while in prison, that they may be subject to deportation. All stated that they were not advised by their lawyer that there was a risk of deportation, and many don’t actually realise that they are Foreign Nationals as they have been in the UK for as long as they can remember.
While the prisoner advice agencies are able to help with the day to day enquiries for these FNP and in many cases provide a lifeline, they are unable to take on the FNP’s legal complaints. Without the possibility of legal aid, they rely on the pro bono assistance of lawyers, but only if the lawyers understand the problems faced by the FNP and the consequences of their serving a custodial sentence will they be able to provide any meaningful assistance. In the meantime the FNP’s, whilst remaining a political issue for the Home Secretary, for most of the population they are the forgotten ones.
Law Gazette Opinion – Criminal Justice System Failing Asylum Seekers