Foolishly playing to a political gallery, Theresa May announced to the Tory Party Conference that a ruling that involved a man not being deported because he owned a cat here in the UK was a textbook example of what was wrong with the Human Rights Act..
However, a spokesperson for the Judicial Office said the pet in question had had nothing to do with the judgement that allowed the man to stay. Mrs May has since put out a press release claiming that her speech had been screened for accuracy. Mrs May argued against what she maintained were excessive uses of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to a private and family life. She said Article 8 had been used to prevent the removal of foreign national prisoners and illegal immigrants. “We all know the stories… about the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because, and I am not making this up, he had a pet cat.” She said.
Shortly after her speech, a spokesperson at the Royal Courts of Justice, which issues statements on behalf of senior judges, was denying the Home Secretary’s version of events, saying: “This was a case in which the Home Office conceded that they had mistakenly failed to apply their own policy – applying at that time to that appellant – for dealing with unmarried partners of people settled in the UK.
“That was the basis for the decision to uphold the original tribunal decision – the cat had nothing to do with the decision.”
Mrs. May was referring to a case dealt with in 2008. The subject, a Bolivian student, said he could prove that he had an established and lasting relationship with his partner and therefore should not be deported. The judge at a previous hearing in the case, in his summing up, said : “The evidence concerning the joint acquisition of Maya – the cat in question – by the appellant and his partner reinforces my conclusion on the strength and quality of the family life that appellant and his partner enjoy.”
But the judgement had nothing to do with the cat, said his lawyer. Barry O’Leary said “As part of the application and as part of the appeal, the couple gave detailed statements of the four years of life they had built and spent together in the United Kingdom, which showed the genuine nature and duration of their relationship – one detail provided, amongst many, was that they had owned a cat together for some time.”
The appellant finally won his case because the Home Office had not followed its immigration rules on unmarried couples: that no person should be routinely deported if they can show they have had a relationship that is both genuine and has endured over a number of years. The Immigration Tribunal said that the fact that the Home Office had failed to follow this rule was the key issue in the case, not the human rights considerations – and not the cat.
There is considerable disquiet in the UK with regard to some of the judgements made as a result of applying the Human Rights Act, but sensible debate about balancing the right to stay with the right to deny settlement in certain situations will not be helped by Mrs. May making such a childish speech and augers badly for the Conservative Conference, most of whom laughed gleefully at her account of what had happened. Mrs. May would do well to bear in mind that her party is largely responsible for running the show now and such a massively erroneous statement is undoubtedly a huge embarrassment for the government.