Carmen Bryan – Deportation order for £2 shoplifting offence

British citizenship had been a long tradition within the British Commonwealth, however, following the end of WWII and the continual steady migration of British Caribbean citizens to the UK, there was an increase in British legislation to alter the rights of Commonwealth and colonial people. Before the 1960s it was generally accepted that every British citizen had the same rights: nevertheless, following post-war residency in the UK by Caribbeans and other Commonwealth citizens the long tradition of equality was rapidly replaced by new laws that limited the rights of many colonial people – including access to the UK and the right to remain within the country.
Immigration controls became more entrenched with the Commonwealth Immigrants Act (CIA) 1962 requiring employment vouchers from Commonwealth British citizens before entry to the UK was permitted, and there was the additional residency requirement that no serious criminal convictions be committed for five years after entry otherwise deportation was an option. The CIA 1962 was widely seen to introduce the ‘colour bar’ into legislation.

In 1962, in the initial seven weeks following the introduction of the CIA by the Conservative government, there were in excess of eighty recommendations for deportation from the UK – many for misdemeanours. When deportation orders were initially discussed in Parliament relating to the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill specific assurances were given that such orders for deportation “would not be made in the case of Commonwealth immigrants for relatively trivial offences and the powers sought were for only serious offences” [1]
Henry Brooke was the incumbent Home Secretary at the time when a decision to deport one particular woman, Carmen Bryan, came under critical review. The Carmen Bryan case brought into focus the integrity and good faith of the government. On 2nd June 1962, the day after Part II of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act came into operation, Bryan, a 22 year old Jamaican who had been living and working in England since 1960, pled guilty to petty larceny (she shoplifted goods worth £2) and as a result of this plea at Paddington magistrates court she was given a conditional discharge, without a fine, and an additional recommendation for deportation to Jamaica. This was the first case under the CIA (1962) to have come before the particular magistrate and he decided that Bryan had not settled down in the UK successfully so it would be better for her if she returned to the Caribbean. Since her arrival in the UK in 1960 Bryan had been working in a welding factory, however, following a bout of illness and a subsequent operation she was unable to resume her employment there. Consequently she had attempted to obtain clerical work but was unsuccessful in obtaining employment in any other field. Bryan was, however, engaged to a fellow Jamaican immigrant, Leslie Walker who was employed as a welder.

Despite the conditional discharge Bryan was subjected to detention in Holloway Prison pending her removal from the country. The magistrate’s court had the power to release her pending the confirmation of deportation but they did not choose to do so notwithstanding the petty offence she had committed. Whilst detained in prison for six weeks – without any conviction – Bryan was not offered any legal advice nor did she have access to the Jamaican High Commission for over four weeks. Bryan was also denied contact with any friends within the UK: for over a month she remained totally isolated within the prison system.

Bryan’s deportation proposal was confirmed by the Home Secretary, Henry Brooke, who agreed with the sentencing of the local magistrates and as a result of this decision there was a political and media outcry. In July 1962 the Home Secretary was subsequently questioned by Sir Eric Fletcher (member for Islington East) “Is it the intention of the Government to treat Commonwealth immigrants, as regards deportation, worse than aliens and to use their powers in respect of trivial offences of this kind— on a first offence?”[2] Brooke argued that his conviction regarding the deportation was partially because Carmen Bryan had expressed a personal desire to return to Jamaica as she was unemployed and had no relatives in the country. The member for Islington East (Sir Eric Fletcher) explained that Bryan had not been given the opportunity to appeal because she had been incorrectly informed that any appeal could potentially lead to an indefinite long-term sentence in Holloway Prison followed by inevitable deportation. After four days Henry Brooke withdrew his recommendation and Carmen Bryan was freed from prison and allowed to remain in the UK. Following her release from Holloway prison Bryan married her fiancé Leslie Walker at the end of July 1962.
As a result of this change in decision in the case of Carmen Bryan, deportations for misdemeanours were accordingly suspended. Many discussions on this matter followed in the Houses of Parliament[3], where it was suggested by some members that if the principle of deportation for a minor offence was established then there was a possibility that people wishing to be repatriated to their countries of origin would be encouraged to commit petty crimes to facilitate free transportation.

The concerns raised in the Carmen Bryan case were that Bryan’s was not in fact an isolated case: in July 1962 there were already around 50 cases of deportation pending. This particular case served to highlight several serious and grave principles of procedure and in the application of the CIA(1962). It was suggested, by George Brown MP, that, contrary to the Government’s stated intention of the CIA(1962), the judicial benches were applying the recommendation to deport Commonwealth immigrants as a matter of course and – other MPs agreed – that the law may have been applied in a harsh and vindictive manner. George Brown suggested that the preponderance of deportation sentences were a result of decent people being misled and becoming full of hate and prejudice[4]. Fryer, in Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, stated that the Commonwealth Immigrants Act officially associated blackness “with second-class citizenship, with the status of undesirable immigrant. Serious inroads were made into the civil rights of British citizens whose passports had been issued outside the UK. They were now subject to entry control. They were now liable to the double jeopardy of deportation if convicted of an offence within five years of arrival.”[5]
The population figures of the 1950s show that there was more than double the number of Irish immigrants to Caribbean immigrants, however the visibility of the black Caribbeans resulted in an attitudinal shift from the white British. In 1958 Black British populations in London and Nottingham were part of well documented disturbances following attacks from white people. The popular press reported these interactions as an example of the potential hazards of unlimited immigration. There were several public campaigns to ‘Keep Britain White’ alongside aggressive action against black people from some Teddy Boys’ and Fascists’ groups.

In the early 1960s the political restrictions and mood of the country were reflected in the popular press that traded on public anxiety over ‘coloured immigration’. The entire white indigenous population of the nation appeared to sense an urgent need to close the ‘open door’ from the Commonwealth to the UK.

[1] http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=1962-07-19a.635.6#g639.6 (accessed 08/01/13)

[2] http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=1962-07-19a.635.6#g639.6 (accessed 08/01/13)
[3] http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1962/jul/20/miss-carmen-bryan (accessed 08/01/13)
[4] http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1962/jul/23/miss-carmen-bryan accessed 08/01/13)
[5] Fryer, Peter. Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain. London: Pluto Press, 1987.