Last week, a British court ruled that the authorities could not deport a Jamaican who stabbed a 15-year-old schoolboy to death less than a year after arriving in Britain. The court based its ruling on the fact that the young Jamaican was gay. Predictably, the court ruling has caused outrage here in Britain.
The background to the case is that the Jamaican arrived in the UK in December 2000 when he was 15 years old on a temporary visa to visit his mother. As is common, the application for a temporary visa was apparently only a device for him to get into the country and then stay here permanently.
The young Jamaican applied for permanent stay, did not get it, but stayed anyway. Sadly, the young Jamaican appeared to have got into drug-related activity quite soon after entering the country. And less than a year later, he and a 14-year-old stabbed a fellow schoolboy to 'save face' after he humiliated them by refusing to pay a £10 debt. He apparently owed them for cannabis.
In the weeks beforehand, the schoolboys had threatened to 'chop' or 'stab' the victim, and the young Jamaican sprayed him and a friend with CS gas. Finally, the young Jamaican and his accomplice knifed the 14-year-old to death in front of his horrified classmates outside their school. The victim died shortly afterwards in hospital.
The pair were jailed for life in September 2002. The court ruled that they should serve a minimum of eight years and two months and be deported at the end of the sentence. But this was reduced on appeal to six years and two months, with the deportation recommendation set aside.
However, the home secretary, Theresa May, insisted on ordering the Jamaican's deportation in 2009. So the Jamaican appealed. His first appeal failed. But undeterred, the Jamaican's lawyers submitted a second appeal against deportation in 2012. This time they brought up a brand new argument, that their client was in fact gay. And this time they won.
The home secretary made one last attempt to get the Jamaican deported, by taking the case to the Court of Appeal. And once again the Government lost. At the Court of Appeal the Government barrister had argued that the offender's 11th-hour assertion of homosexuality should have been rejected "on credibility grounds", as "he had made no mention of it" during a previous asylum application.
The barrister also argued that "the claim of homosexuality was contrived and brought as a last resort to avoid deportation". But the Court of Appeal accepted that the young Jamaican was gay. His mother had apparently given a very moving testimony to that effect at earlier stages of the legal process. So, because the British legal system seems to accept that sending a gay person back to Jamaica is tantamount to a death sentence, the deportation order was struck down.
The political reaction to the court ruling was swift and condemnatory. Douglas Carswell, Tory MP for Clacton, said: "Most people would think this is outrageous. It's a gross distortion of the concept of justice."
Peter Bone, Tory MP for Wellingborough, said: "Whether or not this man is sent back should be entirely at the discretion of British courts. When it comes to murderers, courts should have the absolute right to sentence people for as long as they want, or to send them home immediately after."
Enfield North Conservative MP Nick de Bois said: "I have no doubt that the British public would back the home secretary on this one."
Even my Labour colleague Keith Vaz, chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, stressed the Government had a "problem" removing foreign national prisoners and called on the Home Office to urgently clarify what constitutes acceptable evidence in cases where sexuality is an issue.
This case forms part of the ongoing debate here in Britain about the need to deport foreign criminals. But Jamaicans also need to reflect if they really want the British legal system to take for granted that sending a gay or lesbian person back to Jamaica is tantamount to a death sentence. Maybe more could be done to improve Jamaica's reputation on these matters.
— Diane Abbott is the British Labour Party MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington