Making defendants in criminal proceedings declare their nationality is 'offensive and objectionable', the former president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association (LCCSA) has said.
Since Monday, courts have been required under section 162 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to ascertain defendants' nationality when they attend at the start of a case.
A government spokesperson told the Gazette: 'Where an individual is identified as a foreign national offender this will allow the Home Office to begin consideration of deportation action as quickly as possible. We are absolutely committed to removing foreign national offenders from the UK and continue to work closely with international governments to increase the number of prisoners deported.'
However, criminal defence specialist Greg Foxsmith, a former LCCSA president, said in a blog post that the timing of the 'rushed and ill-judged legislation is unfortunate'. The declaration requirement comes into force two months after publication of the Lammy Review, which highlighted little faith among black, Asian and minority ethnic defendants in the criminal justice system.
Law Society president Joe Egan said that disclosing nationality in a trial before guilt has been established 'is likely to affect defendants' trust in the court's fairness'.
A defendant potentially faces up to a year in prison or a fine if they lie about their nationality. However, Foxsmith questioned how the provision will be policed. He said: 'If a defendant fails to answer, it presumably falls on the prosecutor to lay a charge. My contacts in the Crown Prosecution Service tell me they have had no training or guidance in respect of this legislation.
'How will the charge be proved? The prosecutor cannot be a witness in their own case. Will the judge be required to give evidence, or treat it as they would a contempt?'
All foreign national offenders given a custodial sentence are referred to the Home Office which considers deportation. Those with multiple non-custodial sentences may also be referred.