Updates, commentary, training and advice on immigration and asylum law

An immigration lawyer reviews Paddington


Older content is locked

A great deal of time and effort goes into producing the information on Free Movement, become a member of Free Movement to get unlimited access to all articles, and much, much more


By becoming a member of Free Movement, you not only support the hard-work that goes into maintaining the website, but get access to premium features;

  • Single login for personal use
  • FREE downloads of Free Movement ebooks
  • Access to all Free Movement blog content
  • Access to all our online training materials
  • Access to our busy forums
  • Downloadable CPD certificates

In tribute to beloved author Michael Bond (1926-2017), who died yesterday, I am republishing this blog post reviewing the film Paddington, based on the character created by Bond. The blog post was originally published on 1 December 2014 and versions of it appeared in the New Statesman and Financial Times.

Law is pretty abstract. Unlike the role of a doctor or a builder, that of a lawyer is difficult to explain to a young mind. When my children eventually ask me about what I do when I “work” (confusingly simultaneously a place I seem to go to and a thing I do at home; either takes me away from them) my plan is to explain that I help strangers from far off places find new homes. Like Paddington Bear.

I never knew the Michael Bond books as a child but Paddington is amongst immigration lawyers a walking, talking, ursine pin-up for humanising our work. For this reason I added an illustrated adaptation of the first books to our bookshelves at home. Writing this now I wonder if that’s why I make my own marmalade, although I admit that I cheat by using Mamade. At only four and two and half my children are really a bit too young, but it is why I dragged them along to the cinema to see the film version this weekend.

Reviewing films isn’t exactly a skill of mine. The acting seemed good and all that. Paddington was life-like and his Hard Stare very convincing. Nicole Kidman was as terrifying as ever. Hugh Bonneville gamely communicated the anxieties of modern fatherhood. Sally Hawkins stayed just about the right side of fruitcake. Julie Walters sounded more or less Scottish. Peter Capaldi was ultimately pathetic, in a good way given this was his intended portrayal of the miserable and xenophobic neighbour, Mr Curry. The children seemed, um, realistically childlike to me.

Allstar/Studio Canal
Allstar/Studio Canal

As immigration lawyer, I am more interested in Paddington as client.

Paddington as migrant

Paddington’s story is that of the modern migrant. He is in many ways typical of my clients.

Seeking a new home in a far away land, his own having been devastated by disaster, Paddington stows away to London. His link to London derives from a colonial-style explorer his aunt and uncle once met. His English is learned from that era and sounds quaintly old fashioned to cosmopolitan ears. In his new environment his customs and manners cause all sorts of misunderstandings. Some open minded, open hearted individuals welcome him. Others reject him. Some merely turn their backs but others are more overtly hostile, worried that more of his kind will follow. Paddington learns and adapts — to an extent — and finds a place in his new host society. Paddington’s story is that of the modern migrant. He is in many ways typical of my clients. This is more than a mere subtext to the film and it is, I hope, instructive to consider his tale from a legal perspective.

Legal analysis

Paddington The Illegal Entrant

migration_is_not_a_crimePaddington stows away and deliberately avoids the immigration authorities on arrival. He is in formal legal terms an illegal entrant and as such commits a criminal offence under section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971. It is an offence punishable by up to six months in prison. If or when detected by the authorities it is more likely he would simply be removed back to Peru than that he would be prosecuted, though. To avoid that fate he would need to make out a legal basis to stay. Incidentally, for offering a home to Paddington — or harbouring him, as the Home Office would have it — Mr and Mrs Brown could potentially face prosecution under section 25 of the Immigration Act 1971, entitled “Assisting unlawful immigration to member State”. The maximum sentence is 14 years.

Paddington And The Refugee Convention

Paddington would not qualify as a refugee under the terms of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Although he seeks refuge from a natural disaster, Paddington would not qualify as a refugee under the terms of the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Refugee status can only be claimed by those fleeing persecution for certain specified reasons and natural disasters are not among them. The Home Office would not believe Paddington anyway. Unless reported in specific country information sources, the earthquake would be considered a fiction.

It would be observed that genuine refugees supposedly travel to countries close to them rather than far away ones. They don’t, of course, and many have the kind of cultural and language ties that bring Paddington to London. Paddington does not claim asylum at the first opportunity, another consideration to be held against him. His lack of knowledge of the immigration system would be no defence.

Words like “liar” or “untrue” are for some reason avoided by civil servants; instead they would say in more sanitised and impersonal tones that Paddington’s “credibility” was damaged and his account “not accepted”. The refusal letter would go on to say — asylum refusals appear to be auto-generated by an early and imperfect type of form filling software — that even if the earthquake had occurred and Paddington was a genuine victim, he could easily relocate within Peru to another remote jungle area, or if necessary to a village, town or city. The authorities of Peru would be able to provide protection.

Human Rights For Bears

There are some obvious obstacles to Paddington’s reliance on the Human Rights Act 1998

There are some obvious obstacles to Paddington’s reliance on the Human Rights Act 1998. Let us for the sake of argument extend its application to bears, though. Paddington quickly settles into the Brown family, who open their hearts and love him as one of their own. With his Aunt Lucy unable to care for him any longer, they are his only family. You might think, therefore, that the right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on, er, Human Rights would help him.

Angry cat
“I’m not making this up…” By Tomi Tapio K, on Flickr

Not so. Human rights are hugely controversial, thought by many politicians to be the aide only of criminals and terrorists. The Home Office position is that Article 8 is fully incorporated into the UK’s immigration rules. Those rules would not recognise Paddington as being a family member and he does not fall into any of the private life categories either.

If a child he would need to show seven years of residence and that it would not be reasonable for him to go back to Peru. There is no other route to success for a child.

If an adult, Paddington would need to show “very significant obstacles to the applicant’s integration into the country to which he would have to go if required to leave the UK.” See paragraph 276ADE of the Immigration Rules. Any sign of integration into society in the UK would be taken down and used against him in evidence, so to speak; if he can adapt to life in the UK he can jolly well go back and adapt again to life in Peru, it would be said by the Home Office.

I would nevertheless assess Paddington’s prospects of success before an immigration judge as virtually zero

A judge might potentially treat Paddington’s case more flexibly, at least, but would be bound by the terms of the Immigration Act 2014. This instructs judges in the weight to be given to different considerations. Paddington’s mastery of the English language weighs in his favour. His lack of apparent financial independence and his unlawful immigration status weigh against him, and his private and family life would be given reduced weight because it was established at a time when his status was precarious. See section 19 of the Immigration Act 2014. Judges will recognise that family life can, exceptionally, extend to informal adoptions and that private life amounts to more than a mere period of residence, but I would nevertheless assess Paddington’s prospects of success before an immigration judge as virtually zero.

A formal adoption might change this. I know of one such case in real life, by a truly special human being who really did open her heart to a young Paddington.

A Lost Child

ursa-minor-major-constellation We are unaware of Paddington’s age. He seems young and is certainly a lot smaller than his aunt and uncle. The overt reference to Second World War child evacuees in the film and implied reference in the books suggest that he may be a child, as does his naivety. Although he would not be aware of it, a great deal would turn on whether Paddington has yet turned 18. If not, he would be regarded as an “Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Child” (UASC), one of the worst and most dehumanising acronyms to stain the Home Office lexicon.

He would be entitled to additional care and support from the local authority responsible (Westminster, incidentally), would be placed in foster care if appropriate and would be allowed to stay until he was 17 and a half. After that, like the Afghan children amongst us, he would usually be forced to leave. With the uncertainty over his appearance, though, Paddington would really struggle to prove his age. Like many others, he brought only provisions (marmalade) and the clothes he wore (a red hat), not identity documents (his label doesn’t really provide much in the way of detail). We see his aunt and uncle but the Home Office age assessor would not. As with many others with an unusual appearance and no documentary proof, the Home Office would probably assess his age as being over 18 and treat him as if he were an adult.

Paddington Behind Bars

Haslar Detention Centre
Haslar Detention Centre

If detected by the authorities, perhaps in a dawn raid on the Browns, the authorities having been tipped off by Mr Curry on David Cameron’s ‘shop-a-neighbour‘ hotline, Paddington would in all likelihood be detained in one of our virulently multiplying private immigration detention spaces. Unless the Peruvian embassy accepted him as one of their nationals, he would languish there indefinitely, generating profits for the private contractor and costing the public purse a small fortune.

The Home Office would be unable to remove him but as a point of principle would be unwilling to let him go. Like others caught in apparently indefinite administrative detention, his mental and physical health would likely deteriorate. The atmosphere inside the detention centres can be poisonous. For an inkling, take a look at this 6 minute video from 29 November 2014 and listen to the very ordinary voices who speak. Paddington would be in a sorry state after a few months.

Paddington’s Future

Like many others in his position, Paddington tries to get on with his life. The film only captures his first days in the United Kingdom, so we never find out how he gets on. Paddington is hunted, though, and we see that. His presence is tracked through video cameras and intelligence from members of the public. His home is even raided. It is an intimation of what life may feel like under the Immigration Act 2014, which turns landlords into immigration officers and co-opts banks, building societies, doctors and others to detect the Paddingtons who dare to roam amongst us.

Papers, please
Papers, please? At Kensal Green by Phil O’Shea.

Interested in refugee law? You might like Colin's book, imaginatively called "Refugee Law" and published by Bristol University Press.

Communicating important legal concepts in an approachable way, this is an essential guide for students, lawyers and non-specialists alike.

Relevant articles chosen for you
Picture of Colin Yeo

Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.


54 Responses

  1. thank you colin for that brilliant (though sad) satire of the true nature of our immigration police state!

  2. but this is terrible. A real legal scandal. Mamade is no substitute for making marmalade in January when the seville oranges come in. Chopping oranges is very relaxing, as long as you can imagine who or what they are. Try it. Or try my proper marmalade!

  3. I agree with Ariel Sharon – and I never thought I’d say that!

    I suppose one interesting question – although it might be rather labour-intensive to answer – would be what the immigration regime was like at the time Michael Bond was writing; was it significantly more humane then?

    1. Yes (It doesn’t really matter when Michael Bond was writing: the immigration regime has never been less humane). He was writing in 1958, as it happens.

  4. An interesting read. Just one point I don’t understand, what would be wrong with the suggestion of moving somewhere else in Puru? If my home in Leeds was destroyed by an earthquake I would expect to move to Somewhere like Manchester or London, not America, despite having “cultural and language ties” to America.

    1. Our lives and imaginations would be all the poorer were it not for the enrichment with which Paddington has blessed us. I’m sure Paddington would have been just fine, he seems very adaptable. It is we who would have suffered, without ever having known it.

    2. In this particular case, possibly very little. That may be one reason why the Refugee Convention doesn’t cover natural disasters…but if for example the Peruvian government were trying to kill Paddington, the Home Office would still suggest he can move somewhere else in Peru.

    1. Thanks, Jane. Mine is hardly the best, I have to say, but it is enhanced by added ginger and next time I think perhaps whiskey too. I might even move on to the read thing after Sue’s comment!

  5. Reading your article, it appears you view any attempt by a country to control the movement of people as wrong. Are there any limits to immigration you would set?

    1. The clue is in the title of the blog, John…
      But of course Colin isn’t opposed to all attempts to control the movement of people. He has no problem with evacuating people from natural disaster zones, for example. He doesn’t mind imprisoning those who have been duly sentenced for their crimes. It is the particular forms of arbitrary movement control associated with borders that he dislikes…

  6. Brilliant article,no wonder regimes like North Korea, China, Zimbabwe are even laughing at us when we talk about human rights, people detained for years for seeking protection. Even stray cats and dogs would have been adopted in days thousands donated for their upkeep than accomodate a human being , Even brutal Mugabe states that he learnt oppression from the British system no wonder we have become a laughing matter of the world. We are the ones who breached borders of Nations, colonization of a third of the world and should be ashamed to talk about managing migration.

  7. I see to recall that the Browns go to France for a holiday – though Paddington does not have a passport or has he acquired one by then?

    A most interesting post and makes me want to re-read the books. I do wonder if you have not hit upon an angle that the author was pushing? These were written post War, at a time when freedom of movement within the British Empire was gradually being replaced by restrictions for all, bar the rich. Paddintgon’s friends are a motley crew, including Mr Gruber, who from the name one assumes is likely also an immigrant, possibly having landed on these shores on the run from the Nazis (or so I always thought).
    In any event, the books have a wonderful slow humour about them and we would be so much poorer without them.

  8. Thanks, brilliant and fascinating and distressing and sad, and not just the bit about making marmalade from stuff in a tin – my mum, who was an immigrant, used to do that when I was wee, I thought it very exotic, a bit like how we viewed some immigrants in the olden days. Now it’s as if we are going backwards to way beyond the olden days, to tribalism, as if anyone not already “here” is our enemy. With the word becoming smaller and everywhere more and more accesible, you would think the opposite would happen ie: we’d feel more and more like world citizens and ready to embrace each other’s differences. What next? Thanks again.

  9. My suggestion to poor Paddington, who I can assure will find the Home Office not altogether hospitable, would be to seek asylum in the Peruvian embassy in London – or failing that, go for the tried and tested Ecuadorian embassy. I understand they are quite accommodating!

  10. Wonderful article, thanks! I too believe people should be allowed to move freely in this world. Those who disagree should reflect that money can move freely and that its free movement is the cause of much of the misery which in turn drives people to move. Not in all cases, sometimes people want to live with someone they love, or make a better life for themselves, and why shouldn’t they?

  11. Excellent and thought-provoking article Colin, but I must say you really need to make marmalade “the proper way”! I’ve just potted up some orange, lemon & pineapple, and can’t wait for the Seville season to start! Adding a drop of liqueur or whisky is a very good idea – a teaspoon in the bottom of each jar should do it!

  12. Thank you for a wonderful, instructive and compassionate article.
    Of course, as Theresa May made clear earlier this week, if Paddington was rich enough, he would face none of this. There are no borders for the wealthy, or for multi-national companies; why should there be for the poor and persecuted?

  13. I can only hope that the film will be wildly popular, & will get the message across subliminally. I’m contemplating taking my 4 yr old grandson – how did your children cope with the aspects which have so upset the ‘censors’ they gave it a PG?

    1. It deserved the PG, actually. It was over the head of my 2 year old but my 4 year old found it quite scary and we had to take his friend out of the theatre for a few minutes at one point.

  14. This is one of the best legal blogposts I think I have ever read. Perfect and wonderful.

  15. That was brilliant. I practice immigration law in Aberdeen (although we don’t see many refugees these days, and my office doesn’t do Legal Aid). So impressed with that. Thank you very much

  16. One of the more recent Paddington books, Paddington Here and Now, touched on the “illegal immigrant” issue–the Browns were worried that someone was after Paddington for that reason. It sort of got swept under the rug with a visit from long-lost Uncle Pastuzo (who is still alive in the books–though a lousy husband if he never let Aunt Lucy know he was alive all that time!)

    It would have been nice if Bond had done as you said in the article and had the Browns resolve the issue by legally adopting Paddington. Wouldn’t that have been a nice way to end the fiftieth-anniverary book? “Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Actually, what I should say is, thank you…Mother and Father.”

  17. I love this brilliant article and would like to add more of the perils young Paddington would face. How about being led to believe his case was ‘still pending’, turning up at the police stain to ‘sign on’, only to be detained, taken to a Detention centre, and then being handed a decision to deny your claim made 2 months previously, of which you were never informed, and told you will be on a chartered plans back to Peru in 5 days time, having apparently having ample time to take legal steps to appeal the decision. Or how about during that detention, you room in the G4S managed property is ‘swept’ and all your property destroyed, despite asking for it to be given to a friend for safekeeping. He would be abused and ridiculed by shop staff at the supermarket as he spends his £35 per week credit for everything he needs to survive. The cold inhumanity of our asylum system beggars belief in a so called ‘civilised’ society.

    1. And if Paddington had turned out to be an under age, unaccompained asylum seeker, he would have had a terrible shock when he came of age and the time suddenly came to try to prove his need for protection, having little previous knowledge of the asylum process and having to try to get evidence of an event that occurred several years ago. Maybe be would have wanted to try ringing Asylum Help, who promise assistance at every stage of the process, but would he have had the money to pay for the call?

  18. Absolutely brilliant – entertaining but also a very moving exposition of what happens to new arrivals in this country

  19. Colin, you rock. Sharing this is opening a lot of people’s eyes to to insanity of UK immigration law. I can’t escape the issue that easily it seems!

  20. Can you imagine Immigration Judge Hollingworths determination of poor Paddington’s appeal