Thursday, 16 February 2017

Is it fair to change the rule of a game in the middle of a game?

In December 2014, the then Secretary of State for Home Office Theresa May who is currently the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland quietly and secretly tightened up the criteria for granting British citizenship. She did that based on the recommendation of John Vine the former Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

Of particular importance and relevance to this article is the section on 'good character'. There was no prior warning or announcement before this change and it might also interest you to know that no Act of Parliament ever defined the term ‘good character’. The Secretary of State for Home Office is given the discretion to define it. He can include as many things as he wishes. For instance, this new change would see things like parking fines, bad behavior of your children or dependents, not paying council tax or TV licence and many others trigger the good character test.

That rule was tightened retrospectively thereby defying the first rule in law that no law should be retrospectively enacted to catch those who committed an alleged offence when the offence in question was not even an offence when it was allegedly committed. Think of it like making a law in 2017 to punish anyone born in the last 10 years anywhere in the UK on April 21 because it was the birthday of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II. If, however a law is passed making it an offence to punish anyone who gives birth from the next 10 month and onwards (bearing in mind that pregnancy lasts for 9 months) on April 21 then that will be fair since those affected would have been given prior warning or enough notice before that law comes into effect. This is what a just law being prospective and not retrospective means.

When a law is made to be retrospective it becomes unfair, unjust and defies all rules of logic, equity, justice and fairness. This is because those who arrived before a rule or law is changed do have moral and legitimate expectation that the goal post would not be tampered with or changed to their disadvantage. Asylum seekers and refugees are good example of a group that government owes a duty of moral and legitimate expectation. Sadly, they were not exempted in this change of the rule of the game in the middle of the game. Mind you that to seek asylum in the UK you need to be already in the UK to do that and that means that most asylum seekers and refugees would need to break the UK immigration law in one way or other to do that. They would have entered clandestinely and if this were the case they would not meet the 'good character' test. Bear in mind that UK does not allow asylum seekers to seek asylum in any of their embassy or high commission anywhere in the world. It must be done on arrival in the UK.

As Secretary of State for Home Office Theresa May threw caution to the wind and widened the definition of ‘good character’ without making any exception for these asylum seekers and refugees. To be specific, a number of undesirable behaviours were added to the list of disqualifying behaviours including illegal entry, assisting illegal migration and evasion of immigration.

According to the Home Office Guidance accompanying this change: 'In circumstances where an applicant entered the UK illegally, an application for citizenship should normally be refused for a period of 10 years from the date of entry, if it is known. If it is not known, the period of 10 years starts from the date on which the person first brought themselves to or came to the attention of the Home Office’. 

These changes seem to have been made quietly on December 11, 2014 and many people were caught unawares. Even as I am writing, many people are still not even aware of this change of the rule of the game. Sadly, these changes would prevent almost all recognized refugees from qualifying for British citizenship for at least 10 years from the date their claim was finally accepted as opposed to the previous 5+1 rule which is five years of Limited Leave to Remain followed by one year of indefinite Leave to Remain after which the applicant is entitled to apply for naturalization so far he or she has no serious criminal records. Under this old rule whatever happened before the last six years is usually disregarded. Under the new rule, it is now the last 10 years.

The new rule is therefore not just very harsh, unfair and evil but a clear violation of UKs obligation towards the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. By 1951 Geneva Convention, the United Kingdom agreed not to punish those who entered the territory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland illegally to seek asylum because their life was in danger. The UK also agreed to facilitate their integration and naturalization without unnecessary burdens. I have therefore no doubt that the United Kingdom is clearly acting in breach of Articles 31 and 34 of the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

But the most painful part is that most applicants do not know about this rule. There was no publicity or prior warning before the rule was changed.  Most of the applicants who have stayed in the UK for the required 6 years have gone on to apply for naturalization only to have their application rejected on 'good character' ground and thereby loosing their £1236 application fee, which the Home Office under Theresa May made non-refundable. Actually, they are only refunded £80 citizenship ceremony fee back.

For most of these asylum seekers and refugees, this is a month or even two to three months wages. It defies every logic that asylum seekers and refugees whose life were in danger and therefore had to break the UK Immigration Laws to seek asylum are being treated as a source of income for the government. But what type of application in 2017 would take such amount of money to process? The fact is that this rule is not fair and taking these helpless peoples money is evil that any civilized society cannot condone. Publicizing this change before it takes effect would have been better and refunding them at least £1000 would not be a bad idea either if the government must carry on with the rule change.  But taking the whole money and refunding them only £80 is not my understanding of a fair and just society.

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