Since 13th November, it is now an offence to fail to tell a Magistrates Court or Crown Court your nationality. Anyone committing this offence can be sentenced to up to 6 months imprisonment; the same as for offences such as common assault, assaulting a police officer and driving whilst disqualified. The maximum sentence is twice as long as the maximum sentence for criminal damage with a value of up to £5,000.
It has been suggested that as defendants already give their name, address and date of birth, there is no real difference in providing their nationality. But a defendant is asked to give their name and date of birth to confirm their identity, and their address so the court knows where to find them if they need to contact them or they don’t turn up. No matter how you try to dress it up, being asked to provide your nationality is simply a way of making it easier to identify foreign criminals so the authorities can try to deport them.
The Government themselves have said:
“Where an individual is identified as a foreign national offender this will allow the Home Office to begin consideration of deportation action as quickly as possible. We are absolutely committed to removing foreign national offenders from the UK and continue to work closely with international governments to increase the number of prisoners deported.”
It is difficult to see how a non-UK national can have confidence in a justice system that has, as one of it’s stated aims, a desire to deport foreign criminals. Whether or not there is bias, there is certainly going to be an appearance of bias. Why should it matter at a first appearance what someone’s nationality is? There is no justification for seeking that information at that stage. If the deportation of foreign criminals is the aim of this legislation, then why can the court not wait until after conviction, and after sentence has been passed, to enquire?