Foreign national women are more likely to be remanded in custody while awaiting trial or sentencing than British women and often for less serious offences, according to new research. A study undertaken by the Griffin Society has found inequalities in the use of custodial remand, usually reserved for those accused of serious crimes, or those at risk of reoffending or not attending trial. This is despite 85% of foreign national women having been accused of ‘less serious offences’, compared to 71% of British female remand prisoners.
The report details concerns that foreign national women make up a significant and increasing proportion of prisoners on remand, despite growing calls for custodial remand to be used only in exceptional circumstances. As well as detrimental impacts to wellbeing and livelihoods, defendants remanded in prison are more likely to plead guilty, less likely to be acquitted, and more likely to receive a custodial sentence.
Testimony from lawyers shows a lack of British citizenship or unsettled immigration status has become grounds for suspicion in bail cases. Some lawyers have suggested even where individuals have lived in the UK for many years, their ‘foreignness’ is used as evidence of a lack of community ties, and the risk of absconding overseas before a trial. As a result, foreign national women are subject to stricter conditions, such as surrendering their passport or depositing money or valuables as security.
A barrister interviewed for the report explained how her client, a British woman born in Turkey, incorrectly gave her nationality as Turkish: ‘The prosecution kept saying she was Turkish and that she lacks community ties in the UK. But she’s British. She’s been here since she was a baby and her entire family is here. I was like stop looking at her name…it was so racist.’
The report’s author May Robson, a former Griffin Research Fellow, says this overuse of custodial remand for foreign national women has been compounded under the ‘hostile environment’ for foreign nationals. Under legislation introduced in 2007, all offenders sentenced to at least 12 months imprisonment who are from outside the European Economic Area can be automatically deported. Subsequently deportation where it is ‘conducive to the public good’, has become the primary purpose of punishment for non-citizens.
Custodial remand has therefore become the default option for defendants who are assumed to be liable for deportation or removal. The Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently moving through parliament, intends to increase the scope to deport foreign national offenders.
Robson told the Justice Gap: ‘The systematic discrimination experienced by foreign national women is only likely to become more prevalent and entrenched in a criminal justice system which is increasing geared around deportation. The Nationality and Borders Bill, which is moving through parliament, intends to increase the scope to deport foreign national offenders. It will create new criminal offences, lengthen maximum sentences for other existing offences and give the Home Office power to strip citizenship without notice, thus bringing more foreign nationals into the ambit of the UK’s automatic deportation system.’
The report finds that foreign national women are also harmed by measures introduced to cut costs within the criminal justice system. Cuts to legal aid, the privatisation of translation services and the use of remote hearings marginalise a group already at significant disadvantage.
Legal professionals criticised the treatment many of their clients faced, in particular considering they were at greater risk of being a victim of human trafficking or modern slavery. They said due to ‘prejudice or barriers to disclosure’ they are not often recognised as such. The compounding of these factors has left this group vulnerable to increased time on remand, poor defence or miscarriages of justice.