UK Immigration

Human rights law to be reviewed

The Home Office is to review a central plank of human rights law in an admission that it is causing serious damage to Britain’s border controls.

The developments make it harder for the Coalition to meet its pledges to tighten UK border controls Photo: PA
By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent
9:00PM BST 02 Jul 2011A consultation paper to be launched within days will open up a debate on the future of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees “the right to a family life”.
Article 8 is increasingly being used by foreign criminals and illegal immigrants to dodge deportation.
A highly-placed source told The Sunday Telegraph that the issue would be raised in a paper on immigration to be issued by Home Secretary Theresa May before Parliament breaks up for the summer.
It comes as this newspaper can reveal that a new Article 8 test case has created a “loophole” which could allow thousands of asylum seekers granted the right to stay in Britain under the Government’s “back door amnesty” to bring their families to this country.
Last week, a separate court ruling left the Home Office unable to deport more than 200 Somali immigrants, most of them criminals, after judges in Strasbourg decided that sending them home would breach Article 3 of the convention, which bans inhumane treatment.
The serial offender who brought the case has told this newspaper that he is ashamed of his criminal record and wants to find a job and lead a law-abiding life in Britain.
The issue of immigration has also divided the Cabinet, it has emerged. Downing Street has rejected a plan by Mrs May to put a cap on the number of foreign students allowed to work after they finish their studies in Britain, after resistance from Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Michael Gove, the Education Secretary.
The developments make it harder for the Coalition to meet its pledges to tighten border controls and cut immigration, after figures last week showed the UK population was growing at its fastest rate for half a century.
The review of Article 8 will aim to ensure the law is applied in a “more balanced way”, the Government source said, after a string of cases in which criminals have escaped being sent back to their homelands by claiming they had the right to a family life in the UK.
They have included a drug dealer from the Caribbean who beat his partner and failed to pay child maintenance, and a Sri Lankan robber whose only claim to “family life” was that he had a girlfriend in Britain.
This newspaper has campaigned for a review of the legislation. It is the first time that the Government has indicated that Article 8 needs to be re-examined, and opens the way towards full reform of the law.
The Government source said that including Article 8 in the forthcoming consultation paper on “family immigration rights” should be taken as a “clear signal” that ministers are alarmed by the current situation.
The source said the Government had listened to this newspaper’s concerns about “family life” cases, adding: “We do want to start a debate about Article 8 rights and how they can be expressed in a more balanced way.”
Our campaign, launched in April, has called on David Cameron to review the laws that cite Article 8 with a view to removing the family life defence from legislation.
The Government source expressed concern about a new test case ruling in which Article 8 was used by an asylum seeker to win permission to bring her family to Britain.
The woman was one of the 161,000 permitted to stay in Britain under the “legacy” scheme after their files were lost in a Home Office blunder. Critics have called the scheme a back door amnesty.
Like most of the asylum seekers who have benefited from the “legacy” scheme, the woman was not awarded full refugee status, which confers automatic rights to bring dependants to Britain, but instead was given the lesser status of “indefinite leave to remain”, which does not.
Officials fear the ruling could open the door to more asylum-seekers to bring their families to Britain.
The senior Government source said: “This is a disturbing development and another example of the courts opening up a new loophole.
“Article 8 rights have always been about when you are in this country. If a single person comes here then claims Article 8 rights for relatives then that does take it further.”
The test case centres on a woman who fled the war-torn African country of Burundi in 2003 and claimed asylum in Britain. After a long delay, Peace Musabi’s case was considered under the legacy scheme and she was granted indefinite leave to remain.
Now she has won a key victory granting her three children permission to come to Britain on Article 8 grounds.
Last week a similar case was brought by Jeto Titti, a mother-of-three who fled Rwanda in 2002. The judge in her case was still considering the verdict this weekend.
In the latest family rights cases, both mothers presented evidence that they genuinely suffered in their war-torn home countries, but there was no claim that their children are fleeing persecution. It opens the prospect of less-deserving applicants bringing similar cases.
Dominic Raab, the Conservative MP, said: “Yet again, inflated interpretations of the right to family life risk undermining all attempts to bring immigration under control.
“I welcome this recognition that Article 8 is creating a serious problem – the review is an opportunity for the coalition to tackle a problem the last government created.”
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We are going to consult on the family route shortly and look at what requirements we should place on foreign nationals who wish to establish a family life in the UK. This is part of a package of reforms we are putting in place to manage migration.”