One of the UK’s leading criminal defence advocates has accused the UK Home Office of “trumpeting an unsubtle and worrying campaign” to target those suspected of immigration offences.
The Home Office Twitter feed has described suspects as “offenders” over the last 24 hours, and has been criticised for creating the risk of prejudicing future legal proceedings and risking contempt of court.
John Scott QC, who appeared last month in Channel 4’s groundbreaking documentary, ’The Murder Trial’, said that if the Home Office cannot distinguish between suspicion and guilt. “we should shut the place down until they have all been for basic re-education.”
“Lawyers are often accused, sometimes rightly, of debating the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin, but this is very different and it is a distinction which is fundamental to any proper system of justice,” he told The Drum.
“Of course a suspect may become an offender, but traditionally this occurs only after guilt has been admitted or established in court.”
Last night the UK Home Office issued a series of tweets under the hashtag #immigrationoffenders narrating how many people had been “arrested in raids across the UK today.”
The tweets linked to a report on its website which again described the suspects as offenders.
“More than 130 immigration offenders have been arrested across the country as part of a day of high profile Home Office activity to tackle illegal working,” it said.
Scott said the “rush to judgement” risked damaging the presumption of innocence and could prejudice proceedings against those arrested.
“When Claude Raines said” round up the usual suspects” in Casablanca it was mean to convey a cynical and perhaps half-hearted attempt to cover for Rick. Little did we know that 71 years later an even less subtle cry would come from the UK Home Office,” he said.
“If those in charge there don’t know the difference between offenders and suspects we should shut the place down until they have all been for basic re-education.
“Why the Ministerial rush to judgment? In the past 25 years almost all of the changes in our justice system have removed rights from suspects and accused persons. With a little patience many, perhaps even most, of those arrested as “immigration offenders” will be convicted and sentenced. I may have become rather old-fashioned, but I still prefer to see things happen in that order.”
At the time of publication, none of the 139 arrested have been charged with any offences.