This morning it was reported that the Conservative MP Dominic Raab has over a hundred signatures to an amendment to the Immigration Bill to strengthen it regarding the deportation of foreign criminals. The Government has until the vote on Thursday before deciding whether or not to accept the amendment. At the moment, successful human rights challenges to deportation orders, by foreign criminals jailed for a year or more, are running at a rate of 212 per year. 89 per cent are “Article 8 cases” – relying on family or social ties in the UK. That comes under the European Convention on Human Rights which was enshrined in law under Labour’s Human Rights Act.
This Raab amendment is intended to ensure we deport serious criminals, unless there is a risk to life or limb on their return home. Those who have managed to appeal under Article 8 to remain here include those jailed for homicide, rape, other sexual offences, robbery, drug dealing, fraud and other serious crimes.
In July 2012, the government changed the Immigration Rules to address spurious Article 8 challenges. However, the President of the Upper Immigration Tribunal made it clear, in the Izuazu case, in October 2012, that UK courts would ignore the Rules.
The Immigration Bill seeks to give the test in the rules, statutory force. However, because of the discretion it leaves, coupled with the effect
of section 3 of the Human Rights Act, Mr Raab fears it will be ‘read down’ by the UK courts. His amendment removes the discretionary element, so UK courts would have to order deportation of a foreign criminal jailed for a year or more, unless he faced torture or death on removal. The President of the Supreme Court and Lord Chief Justice have stated that this is the correct way for Parliament to rebalance human rights law, if it
Why would the Government resist this amendment? One explanation could be the Lib Dems – soft on crime, craven when it comes to defending Parliamentary sovereignty, always willing to defend the indefensible regarding the “Human Rights Act” and its perverse impact. If so, then let’s have some honest whipping. The Lib Dems could vote against the Raab amendment, the Conservatives could vote for it, and then we could see if the Labour MPs really want to defend the Human Rights Act under such circumstances.
On the other hand, it could be that even Lib Dem Ministers are not really enthusiastic about current arrangements. They might feel that if Mr Raab’s modestly worded change could resolve matters then it might take the sting out demands for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped and for us to withdraw from the ECHR. Mr Raab’s amendment avoids repudiating either.
Another explanation of the Government’s reluctance could rest with the civil service. There is the phrase about “faceless bureaucrats” but they don’t like loss of face in front of their Ministers. Civil servants have the same human failings as the rest of us. The same fragile egos. The same jealousy about access, status, authority. In the modern world it is harder for them. Think tanks multiply. Backbenchers are more policy wonkish. Even Ministers can use Google and thus check the evidence and conclusions they are offered. Yet the “not invented here” syndrome remains. Milton Friedman talked about “the tyranny of the status quo”. That remains a factor. Nor can Ministers ignore the value of goodwill and cooperation from their senior civil servants. They might fret whether a victory on a specific issue is worth the resentment of their colleagues – who, thwarted and humiliated, are less helpful on other aspects of policy.
If Mr Raab doesn’t get his amendment through it may be that Labour or the Lib Dems are to blame. But it might be the pride of Sir Humphrey.