After a long campaign by the child’s father, the Home Secretary belatedly sought the return to Iraq of the motorist, Mohammed Ibrahim.
The designated Immigration Judge found that his removal would violate Art 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, enforceable in domestic UK law as a result of the Human Rights Act. An appeal by the Home Secretary was dismissed by the Upper Tribunal.
That this was allowed to happen produced understandable concern from the Prime Minister: “We have an Iraqi asylum seeker who has killed a child and there is no way he can be sent back”. Wrongly, however, writing to the distressed father, he held the Human Rights Act responsible for the decision. He promised that a future Conservative Government would repeal the Act.
Finally, after a far too lengthy delay, and perhaps thanks to political pressure as a result of the father’s campaign, the Home Office requested deportation. But over the seven years this took, Ibrahim married a UK citizen, fathered two children and acquired two step-children.
A simple fact
The Human Rights Act embodies the European Convention on Human Rights, Art 8 of which protects the right to family life. The impact that his expulsion would have on these members of Ibrahim’s family is what has kept him here. It is the right of the innocent children to have their father that the Tribunal has upheld under the Act. Nowhere in the media accounts, or the Prime Minister’s response, has this simple fact been recognised.
Article 8, to which the UK has been committed since 1950, does not put family life ahead of all other considerations. It states explicitly that an individual’s right to family life can be overridden “in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, and for the protection of the rights and freedom of others”.
The judges in the Upper Tribunal held that after seven years the family bonds should not be broken. They agreed with the Home Secretary that it was not feasible for them to resettle in Iraq.
Before the Human Rights Act came into force in the year 2000, the rights which it protects could be enforced ultimately only in Strasbourg. To repeal the Act in its entirety would only mean reverting to the cumbersome and expensive process of taking such cases there, adding even more years of litigation. The Liberal Democrats have firmly supported the Act.
The Prime Minister’s suggestion that he will repeal the Act to prevent anything like this happening again flatly contradicts the Coalition Agreement and would leave us still bound by the Convention. He has already been told this by his lawyers.
The Coalition Agreement managed the conflict between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories by proposing a Commission “to investigate the creation of a UK Bill of Rights” which “incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Human Rights Convention and ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law and protects and extends British liberties”. The Commission membership announced on 18 March is divided on political lines which seem destined to produce an inconclusive outcome. But the terms of reference reproduce the limitations in the Coalition Agreement.Thus, notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s promise, the Coalition and the Commission are precluded from eeking to remove the obligation to protect the right to family life contained in Art 8 of the Convention or the qualifications to which the obligation is subject. And the coalition has agreed to ensure that our obligations under the Convention will continue to be enshrined in British law. It follows that our tribunals and judges will retain the function of deciding how Art 8 should be applied in any individual case.
The Human Rights Act embodies principles of fair treatment and humane behaviour that seek to protect the innocent, particularly the old, the sick, and the vulnerable. These principles can be traced back in our law to Magna Carta. Occasionally criminals try to take advantage of them. They nearly always fail.
The concept of human rights is central to our democracy and builds on our tradition of liberty. When those who seek to discredit the Act distort the facts, as in this case, we need to put the record straight. What is at stake is not some “foreign” imposition that distorts justice; it is the rule of law itself. If we do not defend our liberties we will lose them.
Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the British Institute of Human Rights. Website: www.bihr.org.uk
Human rights on the front page
The Daily Mail has highlighted the Ibrahim case in support of its long running campaign against the Human Rights Act.
The Act itself provides a set of reasons why Ibrahim could have been deported. The Immigration Tribunal made it clear that had steps been taken to remove him after the hit and run incident there would have been little chance that he would have escaped deportation.
The callous cruelty of Ibrahim, whose car mounted the pavement and who abandoned the victim lying under its wheels is no less shocking after seven years. Yet he was prosecuted only for the minor offences of fleeing the scene and driving without a licence—and not for murder, manslaughter or even dangerous driving, as one might have expected.
The family has obvious cause for complaint here, but not against the Human Rights Act. To make matters worse, the Court took a remarkably lenient view by sentencing him to only four months imprisonment. And this in spite of his having a whole string of previous convictions. Understandably, the bereaved father is outraged. He has campaigned for years for Ibrahim to be deported. The legal process has failed his family but its failures cannot be laid at the door of the Human Rights Act.