Operation Nexus is a policy written backwards from tabloid headlines on foreign criminals.
In explaining the Modern Slavery Act 2015, ministers were careful to acknowledge the victims of trafficking and slavery. It is a point home secretary Theresa May was clear on. Writing in The Sunday Times last year, she said: ‘We must work together across communities, religions and international boundaries to ensure that the victims of this appalling crime can go free.’
Yet one of the AIRE Centre’s clients is a potential victim of trafficking who was detained and served deportation papers. The reason is an operation that has been rapidly expanded across the UK, but which has remained largely below the radar of public consciousness.
Operation Nexus is a joint operation of the Home Office’s Immigration Enforcement and police forces. It has the appearance of a policy written backwards from tabloid headlines on foreign criminals. Put simply, on arrest information held by the police, the UK Border Agency and other European police and criminal justice systems are cross-checked.
Under Nexus, said to target ‘high-harm’ individuals, intelligence is provided by police officers to immigration tribunals. It is not limited to an individual’s previous convictions but can include information on arrests and charges, or even where an individual was a victim of crime.
Because rules of evidence in immigration tribunals adhere to a lower standard than in criminal trials, people can find their lives uprooted, and be forced to leave their children and sent back to a country they have no connection to anymore – all on hearsay evidence.
Gazette readers will have already spotted key theoretical flaws in the standards applied under Nexus. The AIRE Centre works to ensure vulnerable and marginalised people are protected by human rights law, and both research AIRE has undertaken over the past year and cases we have accepted show that fears about Nexus are well-founded.
Contrary to the stated aim of targeting high-harm foreign nationals, we have a number of clients who do not have a single conviction and yet are threatened with expulsion.
In addition, people who may have very old convictions but have been law-abiding citizens for decades are still being caught in the Nexus net. Individuals can appeal a decision to deport – but the new deport first, appeal later policy means that often they are deported pending appeal, significantly hampering their ability to challenge the decision. This is troubling.
AIRE has taken the decision to seek a judicial review of the policy.
Contrary to statements from Dominic Raab and Michael Gove, the UK can and does deport foreign nationals who threaten our fundamental interests. Article 27 of what is known as the Citizens Directive specifically states that, irrespective of nationality, freedom of movement and residence can be restricted.
However, what it also states is that these restrictions are only permitted if the person concerned represents a ‘genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat’, and a criminal conviction in and of itself cannot constitute grounds for expulsion. Article 28 of the same directive says that member states must take account of how long an individual has resided in a particular territory, and how well they have integrated.
This does not mean no one can be deported. And it certainly does not mean that dangerous, repeat offenders cannot be deported. EU law allows the UK to turn away or expel precisely the ‘high-harm’ people Operation Nexus was meant to target. What it does mean, however, is that in order for the home secretary to deport you, you have to be a threat to society today.
In seeking judicial review, we have come up against another controversial feature of the justice landscape – the threat of costs sanctions introduced by the Criminal Courts and Justice Act, and have had to launch an urgent crowd-funded appeal. That will now be the experience of lawyers seeking to defend fundamental, treasured principles of justice.
Audrey Cherryl Mogan is legal project manager at legal rights charity the AIRE Centre (airecentre.org)