Cocaine smuggling sisters will not be deported from UK

scales of justice
Image caption Two out of three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled in the sisters' favour

Two sisters jailed for trying to smuggle cocaine into NI have won their appeals against deportation.

Dutch women Siegnerella and Siegnette Flaneur were arrested at Belfast International Airport in 2008.

Judges in Belfast ruled that the moves taken by the home secretary against them should be quashed.

Their verdict could have wider significance for other cases of EU nationals facing expulsion from the UK after serving prison sentences.

The decisions to deport the sisters back to Holland were set out in letters which concluded that they committed the crime for money and would re-offend for the same reason.

They were arrested at Belfast International Airport in April 2008 in connection with the attempted importation into the UK of 136g of cocaine.

Challenge

Siegnette, 28, had been studying interior design at college at the time of her arrest and claimed she was encouraged to bring the drugs because her family was in debt.

Her 24-year-old sister had left her social work course after falling pregnant at the age of 18.

After both pleaded guilty Siegnette was jailed for three years and Siegnerella was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment.

They challenged deportation orders following their release on the basis that they contravened their EC Treaty right to freedom of travel within the European Union.

It was also claimed the orders were in breach of Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006.

Lawyers for the women argued there was no evidence available to the home secretary that either of them posed a present threat of re-offending or risk of harm to others.

They further submitted that the deportation decisions were based on the view taken of the seriousness of the offence committed in April 2008, and not the threat posed on their release in the summer of 2009.

In September 2010 a High Court judge dismissed their applications for judicial review.

Errors

In the Court of Appeal on Thursday Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan and Sir John Sheil both held that the decisions should be quashed.

The third judge on the panel, Lord Justice Higgins, stated that he would dismiss the appeals.

In his judgement Sir Declan said he was not satisfied that the decisions were based exclusively on the sisters' personal conduct rather than the seriousness of the offence.

He held that there were factual errors in the secretary of state's assessment, which had included a reference to a lack of education.

Sir Declan pointed out that both women had done well within the education system and succeeded in gaining employment - factors potentially material to the risk assessment.

"The pre-sentence reports stated that the effect of imprisonment had been salutary on each applicant," he said. "Given their education and work background that conclusion needed to be assessed.

"The decision letter proceeded on a false basis so that the assessment did not take into account the matters that it should."

Sir John held that there was not a proper evidential basis for concluding that either sister showed a likelihood of reoffending or posed enough of a threat to the public to justify deportation.

He added: "I do not consider that the conclusion reached by the secretary of state in either case is proportionate or reasonable."

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