A sheriff who jailed an illegal immigrant after he was caught with a fake passport has said sending him to prison was a “waste of taxpayers’ money”.
Annella Cowan was left with little option but to give Algerian national Samir Ghani a 12-month custodial sentence – after being told it could take weeks to remove him from the country if he was allowed to stay free.
About £32,000 will no be spent keeping him behind bars in Scotland.
The 42-year-old appeared at Aberdeen Sheriff Court for sentence yesterday after previously admitting handing over a Belgian passport to police officers in the city after they asked him for ID.
Since his arrest on November 23, Ghani, who has been living in the country illegally for more than 10 years, has been kept in custody.
The court heard that steps were taken to remove him from the UK, but had to be put on hold until the conclusion of the criminal proceedings against him. Had the Crown dropped the charges, the Home Office would have been able to continue the process of sending him back to Algeria.
Yesterday, Sheriff Cowan questioned whether the case should have ever been brought to court.
During yesterday’s hearing, the sheriff asked fiscal depute Elaine Ward what would have happened if the Crown had not proceeded with the charges.
Mrs Ward said that Ghani had only just been granted temporary admission to the UK as he was currently being detained.
She confirmed that if he been released, this permission would have expired and the Home Office would have been allowed to continue steps to remove him from the country.
Sheriff Cowan said: “So, had the Crown dropped the charges against Mr Ghani it is likely he would have been removed at the end of last year?
“Is the Home Office aware that he maybe released today?”
When Mrs Ward informed the sheriff that she had not spoken to anyone at the Home Office, Sheriff Cowan replied: “This is a waste of taxpayers’ money sending him to jail.
“I expected a couple of Border Agency staff to be here waiting for him but I understand nobody bothered to tell them.”
Sheriff Cowan asked the fiscal depute what she wanted her to do with Ghani, who has been living in the UK since 2003.
Mrs Ward said she felt the offence was a serious one, and said when Ghani had been told by police he was going to be removed from the country he said: “That’s fine, I’m like a homing pigeon, I will just come back.”
Sheriff Cowan told the fiscal depute that she was “missing the point” and said “the Home Office wants him out the country and today they have the opportunity to do that”.
The court heard Ghani could only be deported – which in simple terms is more serious than removal – if he was sentenced to a year or more in prison.
If he was given a more lenient punishment, procedures would have to be carried out to have him removed from the country, which would take some time.
His agent, solicitor Gail Goodfellow, said her client had been waiting for a bus back to London when he was stopped by police.
She said the computer expert, who has a degree from a university in Algeria, had worked as a chef for a pizza delivery chain. She said he had been using the passport, not to travel in and out of the country, but to gain employment.
Sheriff Cowan told Ghani: “This was deliberate. You tell me that you have a valid Algerian passport. You know that this would not give you entry to the UK so you deliberately got yourself a fake passport. The sentence would have been 18 months, however you have accepted your guilt so it will be 12 months back dated to November 26 when you were first remanded.
“I do not pretend to understand the situation with the Home Office.”
A Crown Office spokesman said: “Deportation proceedings, which can only be brought at the end of the criminal case, are quite separate from criminal proceedings and are not the responsibility of the procurator fiscal. The Home Office has responsibility for deportation.”