Theresa May gets cross-party backing in Article 8 row

Theresa May Theresa May has said the meaning of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act has been "perverted"

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MPs from all parties have accepted a government motion designed to send a clear message to judges that the right to a family life is not "absolute".

The government is introducing new rules spelling out how judges should apply the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is concerned too many people are using Article 8 - the right to a family life - to avoid deportation.

The new rules will come into force on 9 July.

Several leading barristers have questioned the need for new guidance, saying the meaning of Article 8 is already clear and judges understand it, but Home Secretary Theresa May says the judiciary itself has asked for parliament to make its views known.

Home Office sources say the government was not obliged to seek parliamentary approval for the changes it is proposing to the immigration rules.

But Mrs May said the government wanted "to give a clear message to courts about how parliament believes Article 8 should be interpreted... the stronger the voice from parliament, the better the message will be."

Following over four hours of debate, MPs unanimously accepted the government motion.

Under Article 8:

  • Everyone has the right to respect for their private and family life, home and correspondence
  • Family life means the real existence of close personal ties
  • Family life must be respected as a single entity - taking into account the rights of claimants and those with whom they claim to enjoy it
  • Claimants and their families are not guaranteed the right to stay in the UK if they are able to live together elsewhere
  • Private life refers to an individual's personal identity, ability to form relationships with others and physical and moral integrity
  • Private life includes studies, employment, friendships and sexuality
  • A claimant cannot be deported if their right to respect for private life would be completely nullified or denied in their destination country

* Source: Home Office

The home secretary first signalled that the government wanted to alter the way courts interpret Article 8 at last year's Conservative Party conference.

She said the meaning of Article 8 had been "perverted" and used to prevent the removal of foreign national prisoners and illegal immigrants.

The new immigration rules say: "Only in exceptional circumstances will private or family life, including a child's best interests, outweigh criminality and the public interest in seeing the foreign national criminal deported where they have been sentenced to a custodial sentence of at least four years."

Deportation should become routine for any foreign criminals jailed for at least 12 months, the government has said, and those sentenced to more than four years should only be allowed to remain in the "most exceptional circumstances".

Last year 185 foreign criminals successfully appealed against deportation by invoking Article 8.

The home secretary said that if courts do not heed the message the government would "look at other measures".

In a separate development, the home secretary was found in contempt of court after her department failed to release an Algerian asylum seeker, Aziz Lamari, on a date set by the High Court.

A UK Border Agency spokesperson said: "Aziz Lamari is a failed asylum seeker who had served custodial sentences for serious offences.

"He was held in immigration detention awaiting removal to Algeria and we accept that he was not released on the date set by the court, which resulted in today's judgment.

"We are reviewing how this happened urgently."

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