May’s cat incident sets the HRA into a wider context

(c) ukhomeoffice

Frederick Cowell

Much like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, Theresa May’s cat vanished leaving only a cheeky grin as bloggers pounced on the Home Secretary’s rhetorical feline prop. For May the worst thing, in long list of horrors supposedly created by the Human Rights Act (HRA), was “the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat.”

Ken Clarke, himself a Queen’s Council, (he may know a thing or two about caselaw) dismissed the case as made up, and it was; the grounds that the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal cited for reaching their decision had nothing to do with moggies. Why get all worked up about a cat? It’s because it is yet another, and the most high profile example to date, of an anti-HRA campaign that uses distorted and selective facts to simultaneously scare the public and whip up anger against the act.

Take a common criticism of Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), and the subject of May‘s speech; the HRA doesn’t allowing the deportation of foreign criminals. True it can do but Article 8 has also been used to stop council’s turfing the elderly out of council run care homes and stop discrimination against gays and lesbians, plus judges have been clear that it does not entitle you to a bigger council house or allow travellers to illegally appropriate land and claim that it was their home.

These cases are often missing from Daily Mail -esq anti- HRA diatribes and this is a clear case of ‘example cherry picking’ that is the argumentative equivalent of using the Lehman Brothers collapse as a justification for the abolition of the investment banking industry. It also criticism absent any sense of proportion; in 2009 just under 3,880 foreign nationals were removed from within the UK under immigration law or departing under threat of such removal, whereas according to the Daily Telegraph’s own figures only 51 Asylum and Immigration cases actually used the HRA and even then not all of those were successful in preventing a deportation.

Now to be fair only some of the cases of those 3,880 foreign nationals would have ended up at an Asylum and Immigration tribunal, but the facts speak for themselves; 99% of the time if the law says someone should be removed from the country – they are.

This has been accompanied by misrepresentations about the power of the HRA intended to feed into the narrative of rights abuse. Telegraph journalist Ed West in a rather misleading way argued that the HRA protected ‘new’ rights such as ‘Healthcare, Housing and Education’ and went onto suggest a connection between Labour’s introduction of the HRA and their abuses of human rights whilst in government.

The latter argument is a thinly disguised ad hominem attack (in fact the HRA tempered some of the worst anti- terror legislation) and the idea that housing and healthcare are actionable human rights in the UK is a myth; the HRA does not contain these rights, and the treaty that does, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, cannot be used to bring a case in British courts.

Additionally there have also been several stories assigning blame to the HRA, such as the story about a prison van being diverted 90 miles to drive a prisoner 100 meters to court, was more due to privatisation of the prison system, than the HRA. This matters because the anti- HRA case has moved from claiming it undermines sovereignty – a strategy which as the anti – EU case has shown generally has a soporific effect on the voters – towards attacking the HRA’s efficiency and focusing in particular on controversial judgements and supposed injustices arising from its application.

This means that the anti- HRA case by repeating myths, half truths and misrepresentations, creates a world where the HRA is responsible for terrifying ordinary people and perpetuating injustice- a world that is in short, built on a lie.


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