On the 30th September the Home Secretary, Theresa May, gave a speech at the Conservative Party conference, with an emphasis on immigration and the Human Rights Act. This blog looks the key points raised and how it’s likely to affect UK immigration rules.
The main points covered by the speech were scrapping the Human Rights Act, exiting the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), reducing appeal rights for immigration appeals, and reaffirming the recommended policy of Immigration Bonds – a scheme to charge temporary migrants a deposit when entering the UK to deter them from overstaying.
The Human Rights Act and the ECHR
Citing the struggle involved in deporting Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada as the main reasons, Theresa May vowed to scrap the Human Rights Act as part of the next Conservative manifesto. She also stated that the government will be leading a review of the UK’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights, and even stated that the Conservative position is that it may be necessary to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) altogether. David Cameron has also indicated that Britain could withdraw from the ECHR and said he would do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure that Britain can more easily deport foreign criminals. This issue will therefore be taken to the public in the next general election.
This reinforces the Government’s aim to reduce the “abuse” of Article 8 of the ECHR, which was also spoken about in the Queen’s Speech in March this year, in reference to a new Immigration Bill that is to be introduced. The Home Secretary stated that “while the European Convention makes clear that a right to a family life is not absolute; judges often treat it as an unqualified right.”
Last year the Home Secretary introduced new Immigration Rules that stated that foreign criminals and illegal immigrants should ordinarily be deported despite any claim to a family life. The aim of these new Immigration Rules was to stop foreign criminals routinely avoiding deportation with the use of Article 8 of the ECHR. However the Home Secretary claims that judges are not taking the need to protect the public into account, and accuses judges of ignoring Parliament and “putting the law on the side of the foreign criminal instead of the public.” The Immigration Bill is to be brought in as discussed in the Queen’s Speech, to give full weight to the government’s demands that criminals should only avoid deportation in rare and exceptional circumstances. The concern here is that it is a very subjective view as to what a “rare and exceptional circumstance” is.
Furthermore, going as far as scrapping the Human Rights Act and leaving the ECHR both seem to be radical moves for the sake of making it easier to deport foreign criminals, and sends a dangerous message out that the Conservative Party does not take human rights obligations seriously. Arguably, the government is comparing all foreign criminals to radical terrorism suspects, and is not considering the family life rights of non-British citizens as important, particularly considering the fact that many non-British criminals will have British children and spouses. Should the government not be considering the family life rights of their own citizens to live with their fathers, mothers, husbands and wives? Tim Hancock, the Campaigns Director at Amnesty UK, has also said: ‘The drum-beat of threats to scrap human rights protections is deeply worrying, and would seriously erode access to justice in this country.’ Furthermore, Attorney General Dominic Grieve has warned that pulling out of the convention could cause the entire system to collapse, meaning countries with poor human rights records would be under less pressure to improve and treaties such as the Good Friday Agreement, which paved the way for peace in Northern Ireland, could be broken up.
The Home Secretary also stated that she intends that, where there is no risk of serious and irreversible harm, we should deport foreign criminals first and hear their appeal later, as a part of the new Immigration Bill. It has been argued that this breeds a “hostile environment” in the UK towards immigrants, as commented by Alan Travis, the home affairs editor of The Guardian newspaper. Further than this, it appears to be a waste of government money to attempt to do this, as it will involve paying for a flight for a criminal who may appeal and be granted a right to stay in the country on the basis of his family life. Arguably it can also be pointed out that the risk of “serious and irreversible harm” is quite an extremely high threshold in order to avoid deportation, and again, ignores the Human Rights of the family members left behind in the UK when a foreign national is deported.
The Home Secretary is also recommending that the government cuts the number of grounds on which migrants can lodge an appeal against deportation from the current 17 to just 4. She envisages that this will cut down the total appeals for Human Rights grounds by half. Theresa May claims that almost 70,000 appeals are heard every year. The problem with this is that each case is different, and judges should arguably be looking at each case individually on its merits, and subjectively. By limiting avenues of appeal, there could be some very unfair decisions.
As discussed in a previous blog of ours, a new policy that is to be introduced by the current government is immigration bonds, i.e. a £3,000 deposit from temporary migrants, for example visitors, that will be returned to them when they leave. If they overstay, they will not have the money paid back to them. This policy, as pointed out in our previous post, has been debated and put on hold since June this year, and it was announced that it would be implemented as of this November. The purpose of this scheme is to deter visitors staying beyond their leave, and is aimed at nationals of countries who are deemed to be “high risk.” The Home Secretary in her speech reiterated the fact that the government is going to back and fight to implement this scheme.
Understandably, there has been a lot of criticism about this scheme, for instance the Migrants Right’s Network accused the scheme of being discriminatory in June this year. It is aimed at the nationals of the following 6 countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Ghana, as these countries have been identified as having high visitor visa application rates as well as high rates of overstaying. This has been argued to be an “explicit attempt to prevent citizens of certain new Commonwealth countries from coming to the UK for short visits,” and, “no evidence has been provided to evidence why these six countries have been selected.”
Overall, the Home Secretary’s Speech has faced much criticism. It seems to be a very extreme message sent out to the Conservative Party and the British public by comparing all foreign criminals to dangerous terrorist suspects, and controversially dismissing the UK’s human rights obligations under international law.
Ms May also appears to be suggesting that the government should be deterring certain visitors coming to the UK at all, with a rather disproportionate and discriminatory deposit of £3,000 from certain individuals. We presume that not very many visitors will be willing to pay such a large sum, even if they are genuinely coming to the UK for a 2 week holiday.