ArticleIs deportation possible for stateless individuals in the UK?

The legal labyrinth of immigration often presents perplexing questions. One of which recently emerged in the context of an unlawful detention claim involving a stateless person. The case of Johnson v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2024] EWCA Civ 182 tackled the intricate intersection of statelessness and deportation proceedings.

Background of the case

The narrative at the heart of this legal drama revolves around Mr Johnson, who was born in the UK to Ugandan parents in 1989 and was not a British citizen by birth. His life took a complex turn after a criminal conviction led to a deportation order. However, his attempted deportation to Uganda on 9 December 2014 hit an unforeseen obstacle: the Ugandan authorities refused him on arrival, questioning his citizenship and expressing discontent at being perceived as a ‘dumping ground’ for criminals raised in the UK.

The Home Office’s continued detention of Mr Johnson until June 2015, amidst a background of Ugandan authorities rejecting his citizenship and thus rendering him stateless, forms the crux of his unlawful detention claim.

The court’s interpretation and decision

Mr Johnson’s argument centred around the assertion that his deportation order was invalid, as deporting a stateless person was logically inconceivable. His case challenged the interpretation of the automatic deportation regime under sections 32(1) and (5) of the 2007 Act, asserting that it should avoid such an ‘absurd’ outcome.

The Court of Appeal, however, maintained that the mere impossibility of deportation at a given time does not render the obligation to make a deportation order absurd. They further asserted that individual decisions by civil servants shouldn’t influence statutory interpretation. They upheld the High Court’s decision that the detention was lawful within the confines of the Hardial Singh principles.

Broader implications of the case

The Johnson case underscores a broader societal dilemma: the deportation of individuals born and raised in a country but without citizenship. Mr. Johnson’s self-representation at his First-tier Tribunal hearing and lack of legal aid in deportation cases highlight the formidable challenges faced by unrepresented litigants in presenting a strong case, especially when it involves complex matters like statelessness.

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