Another depressing attack

Posted by Rachel Robinson on 19 February 2013

This weekend the Home Secretary launched another disappointing attack on our judiciary and human rights law – accusing immigration judges of ignoring Parliament when making decisions in immigration cases.

We’ve been here before, of course – in 2011 the Home Secretary told the Conservative Party Conference of an illegal immigrant who couldn’t be removed because “he had a pet cat” . It soon became clear that this was simply untrue.

But this latest offensive goes even further, criticising the impartiality that is the trademark of British justice. The Home Secretary labelled the behaviour of our judges “depressing”, but what’s really depressing is senior Government figures attacking judges for doing their job without fear or favour. Parliament enacted the Human Rights Act and gave our judges responsibility for interpreting it in individual cases. The Government may not always like the results, but just as it expects citizens to obey the law and accept the judgments of our Courts, Government must not seek to put itself above the law.

Last year saw substantial amendments to the Immigration Rules brought into force amid a haze of headlines about the need to deport more foreign criminals. In reality many of the proposed changes had nothing to do with those convicted of criminal offences and everything to do with British citizens on low incomes who had hoped to bring their spouses or ailing elderly relatives to the UK. While the Government ramped up its rhetoric on deporting criminal elements, Liberty began to receive letters and emails from desperate people faced with an invidious choice – do I stay in my country or move abroad to be with my wife, or care for my elderly mother? The changes were arbitrary and blunt; resulting in real injustice for genuine families – including British nationals. It’s hardly surprising that they’re starting to unravel under judicial scrutiny. And yet, rather than looking again at the latest reforms to ensure a proper balance, the Home Secretary seems set on enshrining these changes in primary legislation.

Meanwhile in more empty political posturing, MPs were asked to support a motion recognising that Article 8 is qualified, rather than absolute. But it has always been qualified - the motion was no more than a reaffirmation of the current law.

Before resorting to criticisms of “unelected judges”, our Government should think carefully about the impact on our democracy if judges buckled beneath political pressure. Would we really be better off with a politicised judiciary delivering judgments unfairly skewed by the will of the Home Secretary of the moment?

And let’s not forget the Prime Minister’s vow that a “family test” be applied to all domestic policy. Surely he did not foresee one rule for the Home Office and another for all other Government departments? The reforms the Government wants to put on the statute book risk keeping genuine families apart and the rhetoric which underpins them shows disregard for the vital role of judicial independence in a democracy.

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson

Policy and Advocacy Manager