Conviction quashed a decade after guilty plea

In the Court of Appeal yesterday, David Rhodes served to right an injustice which occurred a decade ago, when his client AA was wrongly advised to plead guilty by his previous legal team.

AA was a Syrian refugee. He was a teacher of English literature who had been conscripted into the Syrian army to fight in the civil war against his will. In November 2012, AA fled Syria and, under the control of agents, he travelled to the UK using a false identity document. Although UK Border Force granted him entry at Heathrow, he immediately turned himself into the police and claimed asylum. He was arrested and prosecuted for using a false identity document and remanded in custody. In parallel with criminal proceedings, AA instructed immigration solicitors to lodge his claim for asylum and he was interviewed by the Home Office, which later granted him refugee status. 

Notwithstanding clear evidence that AA was a refugee who only committed the identity document offence whilst fleeing persecution, his then solicitor failed to advise AA that he had a lawful defence to the charge under s.31 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (which gives effect to the protections under the Refugee Convention). Instead, AA was wrongly advised to plead guilty to the offence. AA was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment which the judge described as an exceptionally lenient sentence because he was plainly fleeing persecution in Syria. It is remarkable that neither the Prosecution, nor the defence, nor the judge paused to consider that this amounted to a lawful defence to the charge.

For the last 10 years, AA has lived a law-abiding life in the UK, but he has been unable to obtain employment or British citizenship because of his wrongful conviction. By chance he learned from a fellow refugee in similar circumstances, that he may have an avenue to appeal his conviction. He then instructed Bindmans LLP who deserve enormous credit for their diligence and hard work in using Subject Access Review to track down and marshal long-lost documents from both the criminal and immigration proceedings in order to present fresh evidence to the Court of Appeal and overturn a miscarriage of justice.

The Court of Appeal was yesterday persuaded not only that AA’s conviction was unsafe – i.e. had AA been properly advised of his lawful defence it would “probably have succeeded” at trial – but that his then solicitor’s failure to advise him of a lawful defence rendered his subsequent plea of guilty a ‘nullity’.

David Rhodes was instructed by Kate Goold of Bindmans LLP.