A judge said today that he intended to overturn Theresa May's decision to deny a visa to the Australian boat race protester Trenton Oldfield, who was facing deportation and separation from his British wife and daughter because his presence in the country was 'not conducive to the public good'.
On an emotional day in court, Mr Oldfield's supporters wept and hugged him after judge Kevin Moore indicated that he would allow the appeal. "There is no doubt as to your character and commitment and the value you are to UK society generally," the judge said. "It would be my intention to allow your appeal."
Outside the North London Immigration and Asylum Chamber, Mr Oldfield said he was “relieved” by the decision. His lawyer, Stephanie Harrison, said that “any independent judge upholding the law was bound to recognise that this wasn't justified. And she added that the decision exposed failings in the Secretary of State's decision-making process in the case. ”It shows that she only focused on one aspect of her responsibility,“ she said. ”She didn't give the case the proper care and attention that it deserved.“
Mr Oldfield, 37, served six weeks of a six month sentence for his infamous disruption of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race last year. He was appealing against the Home Office’s decision, taken in June, to deny him a spousal visa that would mean he could stay in the country. He has lived in the UK since 2001.
The judge did not give his full reasons for the decision, indicating that they would follow in a few weeks time. But earlier, Mr Oldfield had broken down in tears as he told the court that he believed his wife would face racism if the family were forced to move to his native Australia.
With his five-month old baby daughter and his wife Deepa Naik in the back of the courtroom, and dozens of protesters outside, Oldfield described the circumstances leading up to his initial protest. He and his wife had recently returned to the UK after spending seven months in Canada caring for Deepa’s father, who was dying of cancer.
“I think I was vulnerable in terms of realizing how short life can be,” Mr Oldfield said. “I think I was very emotional.” Describing his attitude to the protest now, he added: “I have no willingness to be involved in similar activity again.”
And he told the judge that if he were allowed to stay “I give you my word we won't be here [in a tribunal] again.”
He said that his wife, who is of Indian descent, had never been to Australia and that they could not move there as a family. “Australia is a particularly racist country,” he said, and added that there had been attacks on Indians in Australia in the past.
“Our home is here,” he added. “Australia is on the other side of the world.”
Mr Oldfield’s lawyers argued that the protest “was not of sufficient gravity or seriousness to justify the decision taken” to deport him. And they said that taking into account the impact on his British wife and daughter’s right to family life, the decision to deny him the visa would be “disproportionate”. Ms Harrison told the judge, Kevin Moore, that he had “unfettered discretion” to overturn the decision to deny Mr Oldfield a visa. “His presence is neither undesirable nor contrary to the public good,” she said.
Activists from the pressure group Defend The Right To Protest waiting outside called the Home Office decision “farcical”. “His case is high profile,” said Hannah Dee, one of the protesters. “They’ve decided to make an example of him.” Ms Naik agreed, and described the support as “amazing”. “It makes me tear up,” she said.
Stephanie Harrison had previously told The Independent that in her legal experience his case was unprecedented. “In 20 years, I’ve never seen a case of someone with a six-month conviction for a public order offence being tested over the ‘public good’.”
Mr Oldfield has submitted a file of over 100 letters testifying to the positive impact of his community work. One of the authors, Oxford geography professor Danny Dorling, was present as a witness for Mr Oldfield today. “It’s odd,” he said outside the courtroom. “I can’t think of a parallel. It makes it look like we have a real hang-up about stepping slightly out of line.”
The court also heard Jeremy Till, the head of Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, speaking in Mr Oldfield's favour. “He's not going to be a public nuisance, I don't think there's any evidence he'd do it again,” said Professor Till, who coxed the Cambridge lightweight rowing team as a student. “And I think there's a lot of good in what he does.”
After the hearing had concluded, Mr Oldfield broke off from speaking to reporters saying that he had to take care of his baby daughter. But before striding down the road surrounded by supporters, he said that he remained “anxious about everyone else going through the same process” of deportation and that he wanted to bring more attention to what he called the “criminalisation” of protest.
A previous suggestion that the judge ruled in favour of Trenton Oldfield due to racism in Australia may have been misleading. We are happy to clarify that the judge cited Mr Oldfield's value to UK society in making his decision, as stated in this piece.