There are two odd things about the Tories’ contempt for Human Rights. The first is the spectacle of David Cameron, the champion of the virtue of marriage, the man who’d cease to function if he failed to mention family every five minutes, effectively saying family bonds have no worth. The second is the speed with which Tories can junk the right not to be tortured, having spent the last few weeks arguing that under no circumstances should the rich give up 50% of their income! So a 50p tax goes against our rights as human beings, but torture doesn’t? Sounds logical to me.
At the heart of the crazed debate is deportation. There are good reasons to deport a non-British citizen. He or she might be an illegal immigrant, or a court might recommend his or her deportation after having served a prison sentence. In these cases, deportation should be considered. But this desire to deport should be balanced by certain rights. One right is absolute; the other isn’t.
The absolute right, safeguarded under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act, is the right not to be tortured. If there is a good chance that the individual will be tortured when sent back home, this should be outlawed.
The other right, which is limited, is the right to family life. This is safeguarded under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. If there is a child – whose choice of parent is no fault of their own – or the deportee is in a long-term loving relationship, these things should be taken into account.
The presence of a child or significant partner does not constitute an absolute right not to be deported; it is simply considered and balanced against other factors, such as the threat to public safety, the need to prevent crime and rights of other individuals which could be infringed on the foreigner’s staying. Very often, these factors win out. In 2010, only 12% of appeals against deportation were successful on Article 8 grounds. In these cases, the risk to the public would have been judged inconsequential compared to the harm caused to the child or partner. I would be shocked if a British judge said a terrorist’s family rights outweighed the risk to the public.
So we are not talking about ex-terrorist’s kiddies. What the Tories are talking about are foreign drug-takers, foreign hit-and-run drivers, and – most importantly – double standards. Consider this. If a lad from Essex, British born and bred, were convicted of shoplifting, would we deport him? Wait, let’s say he was convicted of a more serious crime – he ran over a twelve-year old, flat as a flounder, and sped off. Given we are zealous as the Tories about public safety, why can’t we chuck him out? It shouldn’t matter where he’s from; why can’t we send the brute to Bengal, or the beaches of Benghazi, or a borough in Budapest?
Well: why can’t we? I suspect one reason is because the chap is British; he has a family life here and is integrated fully into the community. His mum would be distraught. If he had a child, there would be a substantial amount of suffering, either if the boy were shipped to Bengal or if he were wrenched from his dad. Either way, the answer is that deep family ties matter. If a man has formed bonds with his community and family here since the age of four – as one deportee had – this should count for something. If a man is to leave a grief-stricken partner of many years, judges should at least consider this. This is all Article 8 demands.
As for Article 3, without it, we could effectively export torture. A sentence for shoplifting could come with an added surprise of Somalian torture – that is, if you are non-British. It would be a strange small print to have in the law books. And not particularly just. And not particularly British.