Judges ordered to end 'right to family life' farce
PUBLISHED April 7, 2012
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has declared that new immigration rules will be in place by the summer to make it "absolutely clear" that those who have committed a crime, broken immigration rules or cannot support themselves must not be allowed to stay.
The move, which follows a Home Office consultation into Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), represents a victory for The Sunday Telegraph which launched a campaign on the issue last year under the slogan: "End the Human Rights Farce."
Mrs May said in an interview with this newspaper: "By the summer, I will have changed the immigration rules so that we can end the abuse of the right to a family life."
She added that she believes the measures will be "widely supported" both by politicians from all sides and the public and adds: "Believe you me, I get as frustrated as anybody when I see somebody who should not be in this country remaining in this country."
In a wide-ranging interview at the end of a bruising political week for the Home Secretary, she also served notice she would not back down in the row with the Liberal Democrats over plans to give law enforcement agencies new powers to investigate on-line communications including visits to Facebook, eBay and Skype which have been dubbed a "snooper's charter."
Despite Lib Dem vows to block the move from appearing in next month's Queen's Speech and signs that the planned Bill would only be published in draft, Mrs May vowed swift action.
"Obviously the longer you leave it, the quicker technology can move on," she says "I would expect us to be able to do this in a Bill in the next session [of parliament]."
Mrs May also signals movement in the case of Abu Qatada, the radical cleric whose deportation to Jordan was blocked by the European Court of Human Rights earlier this year. She discloses a group of British officials went to the country last week, in the wake of her own visit last month, and that the "momentum" is being kept up.
"The public want him to be deported, I want him to be deported," Mrs May says.
It is the government's proposed action on the right to a family life, though, that is likely most to please Conservative MPs and supporters looking for some positive policy moves following weeks which have seen the party take a series of political hits over tax changes in the Budget and claims ministers fuelled panic over planned strike by tanker drivers.
By the end of July, ministers will change immigration rules so that Article 8 of the ECHR can only be used as a barrier to deportation in "rare and exceptional cases." The new rules will come into force within a month of being published.
Judges will be specifically told that the "family life" right will not prevent the removal of a foreign national when they have been convicted of a criminal offence, have breached immigration rules or are unable to maintain themselves and their families without being a drain on the state.
Home Office sources said legislation passed under Labour, the 2007 UK Borders Act, muddied the waters on deportation by creating an exemption if human rights were breached - and that until now judges had "no clear steer on how that exemption should be interpreted."
Ministers are well aware that their new rules will be immediately challenged in court and are prepared to consider further changes if they are not sufficient. Rewriting UK law - the ultimate step - would have major international consequences and would be unlikely to be done without a government having a specific mandate to do so after a general election.
Mrs May, who last year declared her personal preference was to scrap the Human Rights Act altogether, saaid: "I have every confidence it [her rule changes] will work. If it doesn't, if it is tested in the courts and we find there's a problem, we'll obviously look at other measures, but I'm confident in what we're proposing to do."
The Sunday Telegraph's campaign for change has been supported by leading politicians, including one of Mrs May's Labour predecessors at the Home Office, Jacqui Smith, and the former Tory shadow home secretary, David Davis.
The newspaper called for action after complaints that a number of British judges were ignoring key provisions built into Article 8 which allow deportations - including "the prevention of disorder or crime." Criminals who lose their cases in Britain are able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Cases highlighted in the last few months include:
* Joseph Lissa, who was branded a war criminal by a judge after admitting commanding fighters in a civil war in his homeland of Sierra Leone. The Home Office refused him permission to remain but Lissa, a driving instructor in Huddersfield, won an appeal on the grounds he had married a British woman and fathered a child here.
* Taoufik Didi, a Moroccan bigamist sentenced to three years in jail for selling cocaine to undercover police officers. He was given a deportation order but told immigration judges he had been in a relationship with a British woman for 10 years and that the couple intended to start a family. Didi, based in London, won his appeal.
* Gary Ellis, a violent drug dealer living in North London, who twice avoided being sent home to Jamaica after citing Article 8 in the wake of two separate convictions. On both occasions, he told judges he was entitled to a family life with his girlfriend and young daughter.