DOMINIC LAWSON: My day at court that proved foreigners ARE overloading the justice system Read more: Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

The New Testament records how a man called Pontius, put in the position of a judge, ‘washed his hands’ rather than do what he thought was right.

Last week a real judge called Pontius — His Honour Judge Tim Pontius, to be precise — did the exact opposite.

In an interview which has attracted surprisingly little attention, Pontius expressed great concern at the rise in the number of defendants from Eastern Europe in the Old Bailey, where in a remarkable career he had presided over more than 50 murder trials.

Pontius told the Daily Telegraph: ‘It is commonplace in the court list to see more Polish names, Romanian names, Albanian names, Russian names, reflecting all sorts of crimes from murder downwards.

Judge Tim Pontius expressed great concern at the rise in the number of defendants from Eastern Europe in the Old Bailey (pictured)

‘It is an extra financial burden, not least because where you have foreign defendants that means foreign witnesses as well and you need interpreters, too, and they don’t come cheap. That has been a significant increase in expenditure for the Ministry of Justice. It also means the trials take longer, not least because suddenly everything must be translated verbatim.’

Pontius is the first judge to speak out publicly about this. I suspect he felt able to do so only because the interview marked his retirement after 20 years as a Crown Court judge.

But those of us who have spent time in the company of his colleagues know they have become increasingly agitated about the effect on their courtrooms of the ineluctable increase in crimes of migrants from parts of Eastern Europe.


One such judge almost exploded to me: ‘Our budget no longer provides for free coffee and biscuits for jurors — so I pay for them myself out of my own pocket. This is one of the side-effects of having to fund the ever-increasing costs of interpreters out of an overall budget which is being cut.’

Another judge, whose attention I drew to Pontius’s interview, told me: ‘He is absolutely right and I am glad he said it, although others will interpret it as anti-foreigner and it isn’t. If people could see how many are here with substantial criminal records, some EU, some pretending to be Latvian when they are Russian and getting in that way, then they may feel differently.’

Actually, the figures are all publicly available: in that respect our justice system is admirably transparent. So, for example, we know that British courts are dealing with more than 700 notifications involving EU migrants every week — a rise of nearly 40 per cent over the past five years. (Under an EU information-sharing system, British police forces notify counterparts in other member states if one of their citizens is convicted of a crime here, or involved in an appeal or a breach of a court order.)

And we also know that 12 per cent of our prison population are foreign nationals. Almost 10 per cent of that foreign element are Poles, 7 per cent Romanian, and 4.5 per cent Lithuanian.

This in fact suggests that Poles are not especially likely to commit serious offences — their large number within the offending population is just a reflection of the overall scale of Polish immigration: as Pontius himself pointed out, ‘the huge majority are law-abiding’.

But there do seem to be national differences reflected in these figures: Romanian and Albanian immigrants seem to be on average more inclined to engage in criminality, whereas Estonians are much less predisposed. These figures, I am sure, are a reflection of the societies from which they come.

 Michael Baranowski was convicted of breaking into the home of his neighbours and stealing mementoes, including jewellery
 Michael Baranowski was convicted of breaking into the home of his neighbours and stealing mementoes, including jewellery

It is equally clear that the Government has failed in its attempt to reduce the cost to our prison system by returning the offenders to serve time in their country of origin. Eight years ago an EU directive on prisoner transfers was introduced. So far, a mere 102 EU nationals have been transferred from our jails, out of a total of more than 4,000 living in prison as guests of Her Majesty.

Obviously, this should change after Britain leaves the EU. The ending of free movement from the other 27 member states into the UK should at least enable us to introduce such controls as would prevent people with criminal records from coming here as a matter of right.

People such as Michael Baranowski, who last week was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment following his trial at Mold Crown Court. He had been convicted of breaking into the home of his neighbours and stealing mementoes, including jewellery, that had belonged to their daughter, who had some years ago died at the age of 11.

Yet Baranowski had been a career burglar in his native Poland, with ten convictions for fraud and theft, before he came here six years ago.

Of course, Polish immigrants have been tremendously productive members of British society, and employers praise them as harder-working than the average British labourer.

The madness has been an immigration system — or rather non-system — which totally fails to discriminate between an Eastern European with an unblemished record and one who has already been a menace in his own country.


Recently, wanting to see for myself the effect of this phenomenon, I spent a day at Snaresbrook Crown Court, the largest court complex in Europe, set up in the Sixties to deal with crimes in North-East London.

I have in front of me the official list of names of defendants on the day I visited. It is fair to say that Middle Eastern-sounding names are much more evident on it than East European ones. But the latter are there in force, too: Sugaipov, Smirnov, Dovnarovic, Koclamazasvili, Noreikaite.

I went to the courtroom in which two of these men were being tried (for an allegedly racially motivated assault on a British Asian, involving a chainsaw). Sure enough, they had interpreters, so the whole process was drawn-out in the way Judge Pontius described.

Afterwards, one of the court officials took me to one side and said crossly: ‘A lot of these people can understand English very well. But the interpreting process means that they can think much longer before answering the prosecuting lawyer’s questions. And once I caught one of the interpreters actually advising the defendant how to answer.’

Despite all this, I came away from Snaresbrook with my faith in British justice enhanced. The judges, lawyers and ushers were all so clearly dedicated to doing their best. But their courts are being put under almost intolerable pressure in exactly the way Judge Pontius detailed.

The ray of light is that the Government now has the full authority of the British people to do something about it.

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I hope they are deported when they have served their time !

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