Court of Appeal on the very high public interest in deporting foreign criminals and the “very high bar” required to meet the “very compelling circumstances test”

Even with vulnerable British children under the age of 18years, a foreign national criminal convicted of serious offences and sentenced to a lengthy period of imprisonment, no matter a significant passage of time since that conviction, can still be open to deportation from the UK where the circumstances of his case are considered in law not to surmount the “ unduly harsh test” nor the “ very compelling circumstances test”.

This is exactly what happened in OH (Algeria) v The Secretary of State for the Home Department [2019] EWCA Civ 1763 (24 October 2019), where the Court of Appeal emphasised not only the high level of public interest in deporting any foreign criminal but also “ the very high bar” required to satisfy the “ very compelling circumstances test”.

Background

In OH (Algeria) v The Secretary of State for the Home Department [2019] EWCA Civ 1763 (24 October 2019), the Appellant, a national of Algeria, had long history of criminal offending in the UK. His previous convictions ran from 13 December 1988 to 28 January 2004. The 2004 conviction related to a term of 8years imprisonment for causing grievous bodily harm with intent to do grievous bodily harm. As a result of that conviction, the Appellant became subject to deportation proceedings. The Appellant, had last entered the UK in 1995 and been granted indefinite leave to remain on 10 July 2003 in light of his marriage to a British citizen. Following protracted proceedings after the issue of a deportation order and having won his appeal in 2011, the Appellant was granted successive grants of discretionary leave to remain until 25 May 2014.

OH stayed out of trouble between 2004 and 2014, however an attack in December 2014 on his eldest child, a daughter, led to a conviction on 16 March 2015 when he was convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm for which he was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. The conviction triggered deportation proceedings once again.

On appeal, a First Tier Tribunal (FTT) Judge allowed his appeal. The Secretary of State appealed the decision. The Upper Tribunal ‘s first decision of 15 December 2017, concluded that the decision of the FTT contained an error of law, quashed that decision and ordered that the decision be re-made by the Upper Tribunal(UT). The second decision of 30 July 2018 by the Upper Tribunal dismissed the Appellant’s appeal against deportation on the grounds that, as a “foreign criminal” who had been sentenced to more than four years’ imprisonment, there were no “very compelling reasons” arising from his family life so as to outweigh the public interest in his deportation.

OH appealed to the Court of Appeal against the two decisions of the UT.

OH’s family circumstances

OH had five children with his British wife, who he had married on 8 April 1998. The eldest child (“Child A”) was a young adult and in good health. The second child (“Child B”), a daughter was aged 17. She had hearing problems and suffered from anxiety.

The third child (“Child C”), was 8 years old, had an episode of Bell’s Palsy without long-term effects. The fourth child (“Child D”), a boy aged 6, had been identified as “having a number of autistic spectrum disorder traits”. He experienced behavioural difficulties and could be aggressive and difficult to handle. He was also epileptic, experiencing absence seizures and was on medication for that condition. He had a chromosomal disorder which was linked to his behavioural problems and might in due course cause learning difficulties. He tended to be very active and to be a poor sleeper.

The youngest child (“Child E”), a daughter aged 5, had also been diagnosed as having a chromosomal disorder. She had a condition known as PICA, meaning that she would eat inappropriate things. The FTT had found that she had to be “constantly watched to ensure that she does not eat anything dangerous”. She could be aggressive and her chromosomal disorder could be linked to autism.

What the FTT Judge found

The FTT Judge’s approach having considered the principal facts, was to conclude that the Appellant could not benefit from Exception 1 to section 117C(4) of the 2002 Act and then turned to consider Exception 2, namely whether the effect of deportation on the Appellant’s partner or children would be “unduly harsh”. The FTT concluded that the Appellant could not succeed on the basis of Exception 2 alone, because of the previous sentence of eight years’ imprisonment. However, before proceeding to consider whether there were “compelling reasons over and above those described in Exception 2” it was necessary to see whether exception 2 could be satisfied.

Exception 1 as set out in section 117C(4) contained in Part 5A of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, provides:

“(4) Exception 1 applies where—

(a) C has been lawfully resident in the United Kingdom for most of C’s life, (b) C is socially and culturally integrated in the United Kingdom, and

(c) there would be very significant obstacles to C’s integration into the country to which C is proposed to be deported”.

Exception 2 as set out in section 117C(5) of the 2002 Act provides:

“(5) Exception 2 applies where C has a genuine and subsisting relationship with a qualifying partner, or a genuine and subsisting parental relationship with a qualifying child, and the effect of C’s deportation on the partner or child would be unduly harsh”.

The relevant provisions for consideration where the Exceptions are not met is section 117(6) of the 2002 Act:

“(6) In the case of a foreign criminal who has been sentenced to a period of imprisonment of at least four years, the public interest requires deportation unless there are very compelling circumstances, over and above those described in Exceptions 1 and 2”.

The Immigration Rules, paragraphs 398 to 399A contain similar provisions.

In summary, the FTT Judge found:

• OH’ss relationships had improved and he wished to stay with his family and children: they needed him. He was calmer and more supportive and had started attending school and college meetings.

• OH remained in a genuine and subsisting marriage with his wife and there was a close bond between him and his children.

• While the offence of 2015 was serious involving a sustained assault on a child in her own home by her father it was not, given the level of custodial sentence imposed, an offence which could be seen at the most serious end of the scale.

• It would not be reasonable to expect the Appellant’s family to move to Algeria with him. It was in the best interests of the children to live with both parents. The FTT Judge considered the eldest daughter as one of those children, although she was already 18 years of age. As regards the impact of deportation on the eldest daughter, this would not mitigate the guilt and blame that she would feel if her father was deported. She would be likely to carry this with her for the rest of her life and this would affect her emotional wellbeing. The effect of the Appellant’s deportation on his daughter would be unduly harsh.

• In relation to the other four children, it was concluded that the children needed more input from their parents than would otherwise be required. Accepting that the family could be given some support from the wife’s family and from the local authority, this however would not be the kind of support that the Appellant could provide and the effect of deportation on the wife and children would be “unduly harsh”

• The length of time that the Appellant would face being excluded from the UK was a factor which required to be taken into account as the result of the exclusion would be that the Appellant could not come to the UK to visit his wife and children. At the very least the Appellant would face a 10 year exclusion from the UK which would limit his ability to see his family and three of his children were still very young and it was more likely that his exclusion would be indefinite.

• The Appellant’s three youngest children, who all had a strong bond with him, would be deprived of a physical presence and the love and affection of their father while growing up.

• Contact by modern methods of communication was no substitute for a parents’ physical presence in the family home.

• The absence of their father in their formative years would affect the children, in particular, [Child D] who was the only male child and who would have no key male role model in the home.

• The length of time that the Appellant had spent in the UK, ie approximately 23 was very lengthy period.

The FTT Judge found that these factors taken with the other factors considered above amounted to compelling circumstances over and above those described in Exceptions 1 and 2. He concluded that that the best interests of the Appellant’s children outweighed the very strong public interest in deportation of foreign criminals.

The Upper Tribunal’s judgments in overturning the FTT Judge’s decision

The Court of Appeal noted that in its decision of December 2017, the Upper Tribunal had concluded it was not satisfied that the FTT Judge’s reasoning disclosed that it gave appropriate weight to the public interest in deportation, in either its assessment of whether it would be unduly harsh for the children to remain in the United Kingdom if the Appellant were deported or in an assessment of whether there are very compelling circumstances over and above those identified in Exceptions 1 and 2. A proper analysis of the reasoning could be reduced to the fact that the children would be deprived of the physical presence and love and affection of their father whilst growing up and that Child D would have no key role model in the home. These matters, though, far from being very compelling reasons, were the natural consequences of the Appellant’s separation from the family. Of themselves such reasons were far from compelling. The Upper Tribunal also noted that there was considerable emphasis, when considering Exception 2, of the impact on the oldest child (Child A), despite the fact she was not a qualifying child for the purpose of such consideration. It was concluded that there was insufficient reasoning to bridge the gap between the facts of the case, as they had been found to be, and the conclusion that those facts constituted very compelling circumstances of the type required. The decision of the FTT Judge was set aside.

The Court of Appeal also observed that when OH’s appeal came to be remade by the Upper Tribunal in July 2018, UTJ Dawson concluded that, despite the earlier appeal against the Deportation Order in 2011, the 2004 conviction did fall to be considered when categorising the Appellant within the Rules or legislation. To that end he quoted from the decision of the Upper Tribunal in Johnson (Deportation – 4 years imprisonment) [2016] UKUT 282 (IAC). In reliance upon that decision, which he considered to have set out the correct approach, UTJ Dawson noted that the Appellant had received a warning when he was granted leave of what might well happen should he reoffend and he had done so. He was satisfied that the effect of the eight-year sentenced imposed in 2004, coupled with the twelve months sentence imposed in 2015, brought the Appellant squarely within the ambit of paragraph 398(a) with the result that the public interest in deportation would only be outweighed by other factors where there are very compelling circumstances.

UTJ Dawson also concluded that he did not find that deportation would be unduly harsh having regard to the seriousness of OH’s offending history including his reoffending after the warning given with the grant of leave following his successful appeal.

As regards the question of very compelling circumstances, UTJ Dawson concluded that the public interest in the case before him was even stronger and legislation required very compelling circumstances over and above those in the exceptions. There were aspects of the case which were out of the ordinary but in his judgment fell short of the very compelling. The Appellant’s wife had been able to cope in the past and would be able to cope in the future. She had others to turn to for support even if that was qualified. She would not be alone. It was accepted that the best interests of the children were for the claimant to remain. Their interests together with all the other factors that weighed in the claimant’s favour were not however strong enough to outweigh the strong public interest in deportation in the light of his criminal offending. His deportation would be a proportionate interference with the article 8 rights engaged in the appeal.

Court of Appeal’s considerations and conclusions

As regards the effect of NA (Pakistan) 2016 and KO(Nigeria) 2018, the Court of Appeal reiterated the principles as follows:

40.In approaching the application of section 117C(3), (4) and (5), that is to say whether either Exception 1 or Exception 2 may apply, both parties are agreed as to part of the effect of the decision of the Supreme Court in R (MA(Pakistan)) v Upper Tribunal [2018] 1 WLR 5273 (otherwise “KO (Nigeria) v UT”) . The leading judgment was given by Lord Carnwath, with whom the remainder of the Court agreed. Lord Carnwath identified the two categories of foreign criminal (paragraph 20). He then addressed the “difficult question … whether the specific Rules allow any further room for balancing of the relative seriousness of the offence [emphasis added] beyond the difference between the two categories…” (paragraph 21). The Court concluded that neither Exception 1 nor Exception 2 involved any further consideration of the seriousness of the Appellant’s offending, which could not bear on the specifics set out in Exception 1, or the level of “harshness” specified in Exception 2 (paragraph 23). Hence, both parties agree that the seriousness of the offending cannot affect whether or not Exception 2 is established. They are also agreed that, if the relevant foreign criminal falls within the higher category, where “very compelling reasons” are required, then the seriousness of the offending can indeed come into consideration in the balancing exercise, reflecting section 117C(2): “the more serious the offence … the greater is the public interest in deportation”.

53.Mr Saeed emphasised the approach laid down by this Court in NA (Pakistan) v SSHD [2017] 1 WLR 207:

“30. In the case of a serious offender who could point to circumstances in his own case which could be said to correspond to the circumstances described in Exceptions 1 and 2, but where he could only just succeed in such an argument, it would not be possible to describe his situation as involving very compelling circumstances, over and above those described in Exceptions 1 and 2. One might describe that as a bare case of the kind described in Exceptions 1 or 2. On the other hand, if he could point to factors identified in the descriptions of Exceptions 1 and 2 of an especially compelling kind in support of an Article 8 claim, going well beyond what would be necessary to make out a bare case of the kind described in Exceptions 1 and 2, they could in principle constitute “very compelling circumstances, over and above those described in Exceptions 1 and 2″, whether taken by themselves or in conjunction with other factors relevant to application of Article 8.”

The Court in OH, stated at paragraphs 51 of its judgement that the FTT Judge was obliged to consider first whether deportation would be “unduly harsh” (Exception 2) and then, even if that was established, whether there were “very compelling circumstances over and above those described” in Exception 2. The FTT Judge did follow that approach, in the sense that there was a proper self-direction in those terms, and the tribunal’s reasons were structured in that way.

However, in dismissing the Appellant’s appeal and upholding the Upper Tribunal’s decisions, the Court of Appeal concluded:

61.There was clearly a misdirection by the FtT in considering Exception 2. The Appellant’s eldest daughter was not a “qualifying child”. Yet she was a major focus of the FtT’s thinking under Exception 2.

62. The level of public interest in deporting any foreign criminal is high, as the statute makes clear. I bear in mind that, as the Supreme Court made clear in R (MA (Pakistan)), consideration of the extent or seriousness of the parent’s criminality falls outside the proper approach to Exception 2. In considering whether deportation would be “unduly harsh”, a tribunal must conduct the balancing exercise with the broad (but very high) public interest in deporting foreign criminals in mind. Looking at the degree of criminality at this stage will lead to confusion.

63.Beyond the error of considering the position of the eldest daughter on Exception 2, it seems to me that the FtT did indeed fail at the stage of considering whether “very compelling circumstances” arose. As a matter of language and logic, this is a very high bar indeed. The tribunal or court concerned cannot properly get to that stage unless and until it has found that the consequences of deportation will be not merely harsh, but “unduly” harsh. This must in effect mean “so harsh as to outweigh the public interest in deportation”, that public interest being the general one. It will be obvious that to go beyond that means a close analysis of the offender’s criminality, a recognition of the degree to which that elevates the public interest in the specific deportation, and then a clear consideration of whether (in this instance) the impact on family life would represent “very compelling reasons” so as to tip the balance. In my judgment, UTJ O’Connor was right in his decision. The FtT did not proceed clearly enough in that way. I fully accept and endorse the principle stated in English v Emery Reimbold. Review of the reasons given by a tribunal must not become a formulaic or “tick-box” exercise. Tribunals are not obliged to write extensive essays or indulge in an anxious parade of learning. However, when approaching a statutory test of “very compelling reasons”, a tribunal does have an obligation to be more than usually clear as to why such a conclusion is justified. Apart from any other consideration, full and clear reasoning will be protective of an appellant where such a finding is indeed justified.

65.I intend to address this very shortly. In my judgment it is quite unarguable that the conclusion of UTJ Dawson against the Appellant was irrational or indeed wrong. This Appellant has a long criminal record, including very serious offending, and culminating in a further significant offence against his daughter. I accept that life will be difficult for the family in his absence and the impact may properly be described as “harsh”, but that is not the test laid down by Parliament. Nor do I see any other basis in which this decision could be said to be irrational or wrong. I would dismiss this ground also”.

Conclusion

The basis upon which OH’s appeal was initially allowed by the First Tier Tribunal Judge and the factors taken into account as set out above, were subsequently considered by the Upper Tribunal to be flawed.

This is yet another deportation case where an FTT Judge has allowed an appeal but with that initial decision being subsequently overturned for lack of sufficient reasoning or failure to follow the correct legal approach.

Tribunal Judges should note as per the Court of Appeal at paragraph 63 above, when justifying a finding of very compelling circumstances “ Apart from any other consideration, full and clear reasoning will be protective of an appellant where such a finding is indeed justified”.

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