It’s a bad week to be a Tory. Following Iain Duncan Smith’s surprise resignation, and George Osborne’s flailing budget, Theresa May has been humiliated by a shocking court ruling. The Home Secretary has been found to have wrongly deported potentially thousands of people from the UK, on the basis of bogus evidence. The Conservatives’ incompetence really does know no limits.
In 2014, a BBC Panorama documentary detailed fraudulent activity in language tests taken at a school in East London. The test in question, known as the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), is undertaken by overseas students, who are required to show that their command of English is adequate for study in the UK.
The Home Office response to Panorama’s discovery was sweeping. Rather than exploring whether this was a limited practice, it made major moves to crack down on the fraud. This included ending the contract with the test’s producer, Educational Testing Service (ETS), and other educational establishments, according to the Financial Times (paywall). Reportedly, universities and colleges were targeted and some faced suspension of their right to sponsor visas.
The UK government also took aim at the students who had taken the test. They labelled thousands of them fraudsters, and deported them.
Journalist Ian Dunt recalls a solictor representing several of these students saying:
They’re picking them up and taking them to detention centres with only the clothes they’re wearing. They come anytime between 4am and 8am, in a group of 18 to 20 people. It’s about three vehicles full of the immigration officers.
The students were taken aback. Partly because the reason they had taken this test was due to ETS being accredited by the Home Office, prior to the scandal.
However, according to Ian Dunt, Home Office officials had been informed by ETS that they had developed new voice-recognition software, which had detected thousands of fraudulent language tests. And seemingly the Home Secretary just took them at their word.
Thankfully, the courts required a little more evidence.
Apart from the limited hearsay evidence there was no evidence from the protagonist in this saga, the ETS organisation.
The judgement concluded:
that the Secretary of State [Ms May] has not discharged the legal burden of establishing that either Appellant procured his TOEIC [Test of English for International Communication] certificate by dishonesty.
The Home Office responded to the ruling, saying:
The government continues to tackle abuse of our immigration system and protect the reputation of our world class education institutions.
We are very disappointed by the decision and are awaiting a copy of the full determination to consider next steps including an appeal. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.
But Mr Justice McCloskey, who issued the ruling, gave a particularly damning account of the Home Office representatives defending the government’s position. He noted that they lacked:
any qualifications or expertise, vocational or otherwise, in the scientific subject matter of these appeals
This is an excruciating admission. The Home Secretary appears to have completely ignored the need for actual proof in this case, and relied solely on the claims of ETS. Who, by the way, didn’t even show up at the tribunal.
Whilst this is surely a welcome judgement to any students who have fallen foul of this error, it is a genuinely frightening revelation for the rest of us. Theresa May is currently attempting to push the Investigatory Powers Bill through parliament. This bill gives sweeping mass surveillance powers to the security services, on the premise of looking for evidence of criminality.
This example does not bode well in how May perceives the burden of proof in her official endeavours. Once the entirety of our electronic life is in the Home Office filing cabinet, who knows what she’ll do with it?
Write to your MP to express any discontent over this issue.
Follow the progress of the Investigatory Powers Bill here.
Support The Canary so we can continue to bring you important news
Featured image via Home Office/Flickr
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?