A leading Sunday newspaper has – finally – focussed on what it sees as “another Brexit agreement folly”. British tourists wanting a brief holiday will have to declare criminal convictions affecting some 25 million plus. This is due, in large part, to the fact that minor offences are never expunged in the UK unlike the EU member states.
In another news item the national newspaper reports that Andrew Malkinson who served 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit has left the country for the Netherlands where he wants to try to obtain citizenship.
His comments since having his conviction overturned by appeal court judges have been lucid and extremely damaging to the UK’s justice system. His comments in interviews have impressed a huge number of people and he has won great respect.
That the UK is ‘an oppressive state’ in his words is being echoed across the country. I am in touch, confidentially, with lawyers who are closely examining the issue of expungement and the potential innocence of many found guilty of minor offences by lay magistrates – those who sit on court benches without any legal qualifications whatsoever.
This, perhaps, is something that the EU should should carefully consider. There is a legal point of view gaining ground among respectable lawyers that allowing police to keep ‘spent offences’ on record and accessible is legally – in simple language – wrong under UK law.
More importantly as this debate opens up, which the Daily Mail, has belatedly initiated there is a growing sense that the European Court of Human Rights needs to be involved. If people with a minor conviction from decades past have to declare the fact to the EU under the ETIAS visa system the information will be held by an organisation beyond the control of the UK government.
Another point that has yet to be raised in any British press or media is that information gathered by the EU from visa applications will inevitably be leaked. Information that is officially held only by the police in the UK will be obtained, perhaps, by Russia, China, North Korea et al. One can only imagine what pressure might be put on individuals who, having made a mistake in their youth or been wrongly convicted by prejudiced magistrates without legal training, have built respectable lives.
Equally, one can also only imagine, although Andrew Malkinson would have a strong view, what it will be like for a British tourist staying in a resort where some crime is committed and being faced with arrest because police see from the EU record a conviction or caution or that he or she was once found guilty of some minor offence.
That expungement does not happen in England Wales or Northern Ireland or that it takes 25 years in Scotland demonstrates Andrew Malkinson’s judgement that we who remain are living in an obsessive state.
Lawyers are gathering their senses on this EU border issue due to come into effect from the beginning of next year but now that it has broken in the national media it is likely that one good thing may result, that is the end of long queues at Dover and other ports. There are many other destinations that offer great family holidays. Apart from places in the UK and Ireland acquaintances sing the praises of Mexico.
North Africa is a good alternative to Spain, southern France Italy, Greece or Portugal. Next year it may well be Canada here we come – or maybe Australia and or New Zealand. The world may become our oyster, as the saying goes. It should not be forgotten that all of the above avoid driving across Europe in air polluting cars.