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Broken Kitten: The Human Rights Act and its Opponents

Since it became law, it's been fashionable to denigrate the Human Rights Act. Most criticism of it is hopelessly ill-informed. But the Home Secretary's recent claim that it prevented an illegal immigrant from being deported because he owned a cat is so ridiculous that even the most ardent believer in human rights would not object to her, and any cat she may own, being fired out of the country in a highpowered cannon. On 4th October Ms May told the Conservative Party conference: "We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act. The violent drug dealer who cannot be sent home because his daughter - for whom he pays no maintenance - lives here. The robber who cannot be removed because he has a girlfriend. The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because - and I am not making this up - he had a pet cat. That is why I remain of the view that the Human Rights Act needs to go." There was only one problem - she was making it up. The real story is this. A Bolivian national lawfully entered the UK as a student and overstayed his welcome. In 2008 he successfully appealed a decision to deport him, arguing that to do so would disproportionately interfere with his right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judge agreed, citing numerous reasons for his decision; primarily, the ill health of the appellant's partner's father and the evidence of multiple witnesses who testified to "the strong quality of the relationship" which had subsisted since 2004. The existence of a jointly owned cat merely "reinforced" his conclusions as to the strength of the relationship. Not only did they not appeal but, when the decision was reconsidered by another judge on their request, the advocate representing the Home Office accepted that the original judge had correctly applied Home Office Policy DP3/96. This provides that a person should not normally be deported if they have been in a relationship akin to marriage for at least two years with a person living and settled in the UK. Ms May's claim was therefore not only untrue; it was perhaps the most blatant case of political bullshit since Bill Clinton assured America, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." Yet it is not her, but Ken Clarke who looks set to fall on his sword for properly describing Ms May's examples as "laughable" and "childlike". Forced to apologise, he said that he regretted the language he used. Presumably, on reflection, he feels that "idiotic and inept" would have been more fitting. Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Damian Green was wheeled out to assert with a completely straight face that Theresa was absolutely right. Unfortunately for Mr Clarke, when discussing the Human Rights Act it doesn't pay to talk sense. It's much better to quote, almost verbatim, a misleading 2008 headline from the Daily Mail and then assure your audience that you're "not making this up." Nonsense attacks on the Human Rights Act are not new. While still in power senior members of the Labour Party could often be heard to rail against it as if it was the worst piece of legislation since the Nuremberg Laws - all the more surprising because it was Labour who introduced it. In 2008, then Justice Secretary Jack Straw told the Daily Mail that he had sympathy with a common view that the Act is a "villain's charter". He was "frustrated" with a "very few" judicial decisions which had created this impression. Why then undermine the whole Act by expressing sympathy with a view which is plainly wrong? What piece of legislation is not misinterpreted and misapplied on occasion? If he had been honest he would have said this: "The Human Rights Act is not perfect but on the whole we are proud that we introduced it. It has made government more accountable and it has saved expense by ensuring that cases involving human rights can now be dealt with in UK courts rather than having to go directly to Strasbourg. The Daily Mail and other tabloids knowingly misrepresent the facts because doing so sells papers." Admittedly, that would have been pretty strong for a Secretary of State, but you get the gist. Instead, he pandered to the tabloids and fanned the flames of falsehood for political gain. So the denigration of the Act is not new, but the blatancy of the untruth used to support the Home Secretary's attack is. If it was not intentional, it was incompetent. She either does not bother to check the facts that form the basis of her policy arguments, or she is incapable of understanding short and relatively straightforward legal judgements. Yet she has been given the full support of the Prime Minister and the government, while Mr Clarke may well get the chop for committing the unpardonable sin of stating the truth. Mr Cameron is right. Britain is broken. )

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