Carmen Bryan and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962

As an insight to the 1960s was a period of rapid social, political and moral change I have written about a case that changed the political landscape of 1960s Britain. The case for the deportation of Miss Carmen Bryan under the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962.
Carmen Bryan had been living in the UK for 2 years when she was convicted of petty larceny – shoplifting (value £2) and for this minor misdemeanour she was given a conditional discharge, however, she was also sentenced to deportation and therefore held in prison following her appearance in the London magistrates’ court.

Commonwealth Immigrants Act

In 1962, in the initial seven weeks following the introduction of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act (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 “would not be made in the case of Commonwealth immigrants for relatively trivial offences and the powers sought were for only serious offences”.

The incumbent Home Secretary at the time, Henry Brooke, was criticized for his decision to deport one particular woman: Carmen Bryan. This 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.

Carmen Bryan sent to Prison

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 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?”.

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.

Deportations Suspended

As a result of this change in decision deportations for misdemeanours were accordingly suspended. Many discussions on this matter followed in the Houses of Parliament#, 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 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#.


This article was contributed by Marjorie Morgan.Writer, Researcher. © 2013 | Blackpresence has special permission to publish this article.

3 thoughts on “Carmen Bryan and the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962

  • 14th January 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Very interesting article. Have to admit this is the first time I’ve heard of Carmen Bryan’s story. Wonder what happened to her?

    • 15th January 2013 at 1:14 pm

      I don’t actually know. I do have a photograph of the man that she was set to marry though, I would have posted it in the blog but didn’t think it was relevant to the article. Have you tried Googling her name or asking on Twitter?

  • 15th January 2013 at 2:07 pm

    I came across Miss Carmen Bryan whilst researching another matter – I was also ignorant of her existence before last week, but I felt I had to deviate from my work and share what I had learnt.

    I’m glad that others are also being informed of her case and the effect her situation had on the laws of this country.

    I have a picture of her in her wedding dress, but I presently do not know what happened to her. It’s part of my ongoing research.

    I have to bear in mind that she may not want to be found or to gain more publicity …


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