Family attack: The truth about the right to family life

As Theresa May launches a high-profile attack on the right to family life, Kate Blagojevic looks at what the rights she wants to remove really mean

June 10, 2012
5 min read

Theresa May has set herself an ambitious deadline. By the end of the summer, she has pledged to end the ‘abuse of the right to a family life’ by ‘people who should not be here’. She has been egged on by the Daily Telegraph campaign to ‘End the Human Rights Farce’. Along with the Daily Mail and the Sun, the paper has been publishing a flood of stories about foreign rapists and murderers supposedly roaming free, living in penthouses in Chelsea, while their lawyers invent ever more bizarre definitions of ‘family life’, which are then upheld by bleeding-heart liberal judges. These stories are being used by the government as evidence for a full frontal attack on human rights law.

When May first mooted her plans at the Tory party conference, she cited as a salutary example the story of a man who was allowed to remain in the country because he owned a cat. Justice secretary Ken Clarke said at the time that he was willing to place a bet that it was not true. Lawyers corroborated that he would win the bet, but no red-faced retreat was forthcoming from May.

Instead she has announced that by July she will have changed the immigration rules (the UK Border Agency’s policies, which are not binding in law) to state that foreign ex-offenders will only be able to avoid deportation because of the right to family life in ‘rare and exceptional circumstances’. May says she will then order judges to follow these guidelines, rather than the national, European or international law. So not only is she willing to bypass human rights law but also the independence of the judiciary, considered by most to be a cornerstone of the constitution.

Yet so long as the right to family life exists in law, judges can’t disregard it. If they do, it will be immediately challenged in the British High Court and the European Court of Human Rights. May’s response is to say that if that happens she will change the law, although throwing the Human Rights Act into the shredder will not quite be as easy as she suggests. The international ramifications of the UK essentially abolishing a fundamental human right aside, the Liberal Democrats remain committed to the Act, and civil liberties organisations, although often quiet on the rights of foreign offenders, will be forced into action.

If May does succeed, the effects will be greater than a few orphaned cats. Bhavan’s is a typical story. He came to the UK with his family as a refugee at five years old. He considers his home to be Harrow, in north London, where his entire family lives and where he grew up. He did well in his GCSEs but in the summer holidays went off the rails, started hanging out with ‘the wrong crowd’ and got into drugs and crime to pay for them. Despite constant nagging by his mum, he never got round to filling in the papers to become a British citizen. He did stints in a young offenders institute and prison for shoplifting and robbery.

At the end of the last sentence, his friends were released, but he was taken to an immigration detention centre and he realised that he wasn’t quite as British as they were. He received a letter from the home secretary stating that because he is a risk to the public, he will be deported to Sri Lanka. Without a judge who was independent of the Home Office and able to consider Bhavan’s right to family life, he would have been forcibly deported a few months ago to a country he left 27 years ago.

The judicial decision in his favour depended on something else too: legal aid. Theresa May is likely to miss her summer deadline, with the right to family life remaining intact for now and judges will probably snub her orders. But from April next year, access to legal aid funding will be removed for people who are fighting deportation on the basis of a right to family life. The vast majority of people do not have the resources to pay the legal fees to fight their cases. Making it too expensive to afford human rights is a very effective way of removing them.

The people I work with are not trying to scam the system. But they are fighting tooth and nail to stay in a country where they have families. They want to watch their kids grow up, and grow old with their husbands or wives. And they want to be at their grandmother’s funeral. The only people who are abusing the right to family life are those who are working to scrap it.

Kate Blagojevic is a caseworker and campaigner with Detention Action


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram

Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope

New Cross fights new wave of housing privatisation
Lewisham residents object to a new trend in local authority housing developments

Stand-off with prison profiteers at the Tower of London
Marienna Pope-Weidemann reports on disruption at the European Custody and Detention Summit


26