Since 13th November, courts have been ordered under section 162 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to ascertain defendants’ personal details, including nationality, when they attend at the start of a case. The new law can be seen as yet another measure introduced by the Tory government to make the lives of migrants in the UK as difficult as possible. It was described by campaigners as “bringing border controls to the courtrooms”, and can prejudice trials against non- British nationals, including, but obviously not limited to, the trials of international activists. Here is the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group comment on the issue:
In 2015, Mr Black Hoody and Mr Grey Sweatshirt stood trial at Willesden Magistrates Court. These unusual names were chosen for by Her Majesties Prison Service when the gentlemen concerned were given to their custody while the court tried to figure out a way to make them give their real names and addresses. After 3 weeks the court gave up and they were released. At the trial months later they were convicted of aggravated trespass, given a conditional discharge and released.
Now the state has closed this “loophole in the law”. Section 162 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 makes it an offence not to give your name, address, date of birth, and nationality punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment (or 12 months in Scotland). Worse, the offence can be dealt with at the same time as the offence you are already charged with. That means the same court that suspects you gets to decide if you’re guilty, meaning nothing resembling of a fair trial. There are other powers where it is an offence not to give your details, (see the article on the LDMG website), but they are not imprisonable.
This is bad news, but why just make a nasty new law when you can make a nasty new racist law, or two!
The Act creates new offences of failing to state your nationality when asked by a cop or immigration officer (section 159), and refusing to give the police your passport or other nationality document after arrest (section 160). But wait, surly there is some safeguard against such a widespread invasion of personal privacy? Sure there is! They are only able to use these powers if they suspect “the individual is not a British citizen”. Notice this is suspect, not even the “reasonably suspect” required for arrests. Now how are they going to do their suspecting? God forbid it could be the colour of one’s skin or having a foreign accent.
Hopefully there will be legal challenges to these laws and we wait to see how it will work out in practice. You can read the legislation in full here.
Andy from LDMG