Refusing Trenton Oldfield leave to remain is vindictive and baseless

The man who disrupted the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race last year has been refused a visa. At best this is a woefully inconsistent application of policy, and at worst a vengeful, vindictive and juvenile act.

Trenton Oldfield made a name for himself – as no doubt was his intention – when he disrupted the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, last year. His "protest" caused the race to be restarted and much anger among members of the public, many of whom saw his actions as a selfish and supercilious attention-seeking exercise. He was arrested and charged with causing a public nuisance. He was convicted, somewhat unsurprisingly, and given a six-month custodial sentence.

Oldfield, an Australian national, is married and is expecting a child. He has lived in the UK for 10 years and has a tier one visa as a highly-skilled migrant. A tier 1 visa grants individuals leave to remain in the UK for a specified period of time. Presumably, that visa is due to expire and he applied for a spousal visa.

A spousal visa usually operates a two-year probationary period, after which it is necessary to demonstrate that the couple have been living together. The individual may then apply for indefinite leave to remain.

Oldfield’s application was refused. It was reported that the Home Office informed him that following his conviction, his continued presence in the UK would not be "conducive to the public good". General Grounds for Refusal guidance issued by the UK Border Agency in relation to the Immigration Rules suggests that people who are refused leave on the basis that it is conducive to the public good "may include:

  • a member of a proscribed group
  • a person suspected of war crimes or crimes against humanity
  • a person whose presence is undesirable because of their character, conduct or associations
  • a person whose presence might lead to an infringement of UK law or a breach of public order, and/or
  • a person whose presence may lead to an offence being committed by someone else."

The Immigration Rules govern the decision-making in relation to leave to remain and guidance on adverse decisions which is to be read alongside the Rules states that "it will never be appropriate to refuse an application where there is no evidence to support the decision" and that "the refusal must show that the immigration officer or the Secretary of State was acting reasonably in deciding that he was not satisfied." One may question whether that is so.

Deportation

Foreign nationals are open to deportation following a conviction where certain conditions are met. Where, upon a conviction, an individual who is not a British citizen, is sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment, there is a duty incumbent upon the Secretary of State to make a deportation order. This is known as automatic deportation.

Oldfield received a (harsh) six-month sentence and so was nowhere near to the level at which the automatic deportation policy would "bite". There was a power for the court to order his deportation, but this would have been an erroneous decision and one which would no doubt have been successfully quashed on appeal. What is interesting to note then, is that had Oldfield have applied for his spousal visa in 2012, and disrupted the 2013 boat race, he would not have presumably been deported.

The BBC reported that a Home Office spokesperson stated: "Those who come to the UK must abide by our laws.” That is no justification for refusing his application as the deportation regime outlined above did not require his removal. It is arguably contrary Parliament’s will.

If Oldfield was not subject to deportation arising from his conviction in 2012, why should that now be determinative of his leave to remain upon an application for a new visa? At best that is a woefully inconsistent policy, and at worst, it is a vengeful, vindictive and juvenile.

Appeal

Oldfield has a full right of appeal and he told the Guardian that he has appealed against the decision. The appeal will be heard before First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber).

There is of course a human rights element to this saga. Both Trenton Oldfield and his wife have a right under article 8 to a family life and it would seem disproportionate and in breach of those rights to refuse him leave to remain as a result of his conviction, despite the deportation procedure not being triggered.

Notwithstanding what you may think of him, perhaps it is worth the Home Office asking whether attempting to remove Oldfield from the UK "conducive to the public good", considering the time and expense involved (and embarrassment when the decision is subsequently reversed). His actions were selfish, yet it is the Home Office who look the fool. 

Editor's note: This article originally stated that Oldfield appeal would be heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Chamber. This was incorrect - it will be heard by the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) - and the article has been amended accordingly.

Trenton Oldfield. Photograph: Getty Images
Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.