On Thursday, the Crown Prosecution Service announced that they would no longer prosecute migrants uninvolved in any criminal activity other than illegal entry to the UK. The development, supported by the notion that these cases can be better dealt with by administrative deportation than by prison overcrowding, is being widely reported as a blow to the Home Secretary’s Tuesday announcement of the Nationality and Borders Bill. The Bill seeks to further differentiate between migrants who enter the UK illegally and those who do not. Significant changes introduced by the new legislation are the increase of the maximum sentence for illegal entry from six months to twelve, introduced at clause 37, and the removal of protections for migrants who are escorted to the UK by the Border Force, who currently technically enter the country legally. The Bill will require that migrants have prior authorisation to enter the country to avoid entering illegally. How the CPS guidance, apparently adopted after ‘close consultation with the Home Office’ will interact with the new law, if passed, remains to be seen.
The arrest of opposition activist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega in Minsk last Sunday, following the forced grounding of Ryanair flight FR4978 from Athens to Vilnius has captured headlines this week. Mr Protasevich is a former editor of Nexta, an online dissident group with the most popular Telegram messaging channel in Belarus. Nexta produces online content in a similar style to that of Russian activist Alexei Navalny, uncovering corruption in Europe’s last dictatorship.
Although state-run Belarussian TV initially claimed that the plane had requested the diversion to Minsk, a later transcript was shown in which air traffic controllers told the pilot that there was a bomb on board the plane. A Russian-bought MiG fighter jet escorted the plane to Minsk airport, where Mr Protasevich and Miss Sapega were detained. Belarus is the last country in Europe to impose the death penalty, and the inclusion of Mr Protasevich on a KGB list of terrorist suspects (for which the death penalty applies in Belarus) has sparked fears over his sentencing. However, he has so far only been charged with organising mass unrest for his coverage of the 2020 election (widely known to have been rigged). The Committee to Protect Journalists records the murders of six journalists in Belarus since 1994, when Alexander Lukashenko became dictator. Self-exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who entered politics herself after the arrest of her journalist husband, has reported that she believes Mr Protasevich (who suffers from heart disease) may currently be in hospital following heart complications.
Estonia’s president, Kersti Kaljulaid, has reiterated her pleas for the UK to take a tougher stance on money entering the country from corrupt regimes, whereafter it is dissipated through the London financial sector. She first requested the UK make needed changes after the attempted murders of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in 2018 by FSB agents. While the government has stated it will take action, there is not yet any evidence of fresh safeguards to prevent money flowing through the UK system. The UK, which already sanctions Belarus, is now preparing to discuss further sanctions in tandem with EU leaders.
On Friday, former Home Secretary Lord Blunkett raised his issues with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, an enormous piece of legislation that reforms much existing legislation and common law offences. Lord Blunkett pointed to the difficulties the police could face in interpreting the new law, and the sensitive nature of the relationship between the police and protestors. The Bill is currently at the Committee Stage of Parliamentary procedure. Particular attention has been drawn to s.59 of the Bill, which purportedly codifies the common law offence of public nuisance, following the recommendations of the Law Commission’s 2015 report, Simplification of Criminal Law: Public Nuisance and Outraging Public Decency. This section would create an offence of ‘intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance’, defined as where a person’s act or omission causes serious harm to the public or a section of the public. Subsection (2) states that this offence can be constituted where ‘a person’ suffers ‘serious distress, serious annoyance, serious inconvenience or serious loss of amenity’. On indictment, a defendant is liable to imprisonment for a term up to ten years. While the Law Commission’s recommendation that the fault element should be intention or recklessness as opposed to ‘knew or should have known’ was adopted, the significant maximum term is a new addition.
The UK has seen an increasingly falling rate in arrests and prosecutions for cannabis possession over recent years, as police forces no longer see the point in enforcement. The Liberal Democrats have campaigned for its legalisation since 2016, and the first medically-prescribed cannabis was permitted in the UK in 2018. However, crucial NHS cannabis-based medicines for epilepsy remained prohibitively difficult to access for another year, with the majority of self-reported ‘medicinal’ users still turning to the black market. With growing numbers of US states, alongside Canada and South Africa decriminalising recreational use over the past three years, some UK MPs believe that cannabis legalisation will occur in the UK within five to ten years.
For several years, China has been enacting a policy of repression and brainwashing against over a million Uyghur Muslims in its northwest Xinjiang province. Reports include instances of forced sterilisation. Its hundreds of ‘re-education’ camps have been revealed as places where contact with relatives, the ability to pray and even when to use the toilet are tightly controlled. A leaked document reveals the state’s use of algorithms to score inmates on a ‘behaviour-modification’ points system, which tells guards when to mete out rewards and punishments. Absent from their homes, Uyghur places of worship are secretly bulldozed en masse.
On Tuesday, the UK government announced new rules that seek to prevent UK companies profiting from forced Uyghur labour. Companies will have to demonstrate that their supply chains are free from slavery. Public procurement rules will also attempt to exclude suppliers with links to human rights violations. This new policy appears to implement Key Proposal no. 5 of the newly created China Research Group, a think tank set up by Tory MPs to ‘counter violations of international universal human rights’. The ERG-style group was formed after China’s coronavirus cover-up operation became clear.
On Thursday, Harry Dunn’s family were granted permission to appeal against the High Court ruling handed down on 24 November, which held in no uncertain terms that Mrs Sacoolas did enjoy diplomatic immunity at the time she killed 19 year-old Harry Dunn while driving on the wrong side of the road in August of last year. The US state department has refused to waive her immunity under Article 32 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, stating that to allow the waiver, and thereby the extradition request that would inevitably follow would set an “extraordinarily troubling precedent”. The arrests of diplomats Michael Kovrig in China and Rob Macaire in Iran over the last year highlight the continued importance of the inviolability of diplomatic agents serving abroad. However, where there has been an unlawful killing by a family member of an agent, natural inclinations of justice are upset by the failure of a longstanding diplomatic ally to simply do the right thing.
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