Immigration Bill — Report (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 1st April 2014.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office), Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 9:45 pm, 1st April 2014

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for giving us an opportunity to revisit Clause 18.

I do not propose to repeat what I said on the previous group of amendments—which I think has been acknowledged by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope—as to why the Government came to the position that they did and thought that it was better in the circumstances to include these rules in the Bill. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that I do not believe that this is a trespass into the judicial function. As I indicated earlier, I think that one of the things that have to be taken into account, given that Article 8 rights are not absolute rights, is the public interest. It is appropriate and proper that Parliament determines what the public interest is. That is what we seek to do in Clause 18. Thereafter, it is quite properly the function of the courts to apply the law, having considered all the circumstances.

In moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said that this debate had a narrow focus, unlike the earlier debate that we had in Committee. Amendments 17 and 18 propose to qualify, by inserting the word “normally”, the provisions in Clause 18 that little weight—in terms of the public interest—should be given to private life, or to family life with a British or settled partner, which was formed when the person was in the United Kingdom unlawfully, or to private life formed with precarious immigration status.

In a similar vein, Amendment 19 proposes to qualify the provision made by Clause 18 for the public interest in the deportation of a foreign criminal who has not been sentenced to imprisonment of four years or more, and who seeks to prevent their deportation by relying on their private life, on their family life with a British or settled partner, or on their parental relationship with a British child or a foreign child who has been resident in the UK for seven years or more.

These amendments are not required to ensure that Clause 18 is compatible with our obligations under the European convention, or to ensure that it properly reflects judicial discretion in determining proportionality under Article 8 in individual cases. It will remain a matter for the courts to consider—not just “normally” but in every case—whether the interference in the individual’s right to respect for private and family life is justified by the relevant public interest considerations. However, the Strasbourg court has made it clear that the European Convention on Human Rights does not guarantee families a right to reside in a particular country, and has consistently recognised that the Executive enjoy a significant margin of appreciation in determining how most appropriately to control immigration.

Clause 18 seeks to reflect Strasbourg case law, which has consistently said that little weight should be placed on private or family life formed during a time when a person’s immigration status is precarious—for example, in the case of Rodrigues da Silva and Hoogkamer v the Netherlands. I fully appreciate the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that flexibility might be lost when measures are put into primary legislation, although I am not saying that it is a straitjacket. Indeed, one of the considerations that the Government had to weigh up when the decision was taken that it was better to put these matters into primary legislation was that it does not have the same flexibility as rules, given what had been said in the Upper Tribunal regarding matters which were otherwise found in the Immigration Rules. No doubt successors in office will have to keep an eye on Strasbourg jurisprudence. I recognise that it is more difficult to amend primary legislation due to the nature of the parliamentary timetable. Nevertheless, we thought that it was better to do what we did. As I indicated, what we believe we are doing with regard to the reference to “little weight” is to reflect current Strasbourg case law.

Those who enter the United Kingdom for a temporary purpose, such as work or study, can have no automatic expectation of being allowed to settle here. Any private life they develop must be seen in the context of the expectation of their returning to their country of origin. Those who form private or family life while in the United Kingdom unlawfully can have less expectation of being allowed to stay here, and still less those who commit such serious criminal offences that they fall to be deported from the United Kingdom.

As was mentioned in the speeches, the amendments reflect a concern that, if little weight is given to family or private life in these circumstances, a claim under Article 8 can never succeed. That is not the case. The fact that a private or family life has been established should be given little weight, consistent with the case law, but that does not mean no weight is given to that private or family life.

Where there are other factors to be put in the balance—such as the presence of children, disability of the partner, contribution to the community or the fact a young adult has spent over half their life in the UK and has no ties with their country of birth—these factors will all need to be weighed in the balance to decide whether it would be disproportionate to remove the person from the United Kingdom. The need to have regard to these other factors is reflected in the current family and private life Immigration Rules. The case law and Home Office guidance also make it clear that there may be other exceptional factors that need to be taken into account to ensure the decision is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The addition of the word “normally” is therefore unnecessary, if the aim is to ensure that other relevant factors can be taken into account. It is unhelpful in that it gives no indication of the circumstances when little weight should not be given: in other words, what would be the abnormal case. It is potentially more restrictive, and arguably even incompatible with the European convention, if the implication is that normally these additional factors will not be taken into account. In fact, they should always be taken into account.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that where little weight should be given to family or private life, that does not mean no weight. In response to the specific points made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I confirm that there may well be compassionate or exceptional cases where Article 8 requires weight to be given to these or other factors or Article 8 requires no deportation. I confirm that the courts must continue to apply Article 8 under the Human Rights Act and that Clause 18 does not override the dicta of the late Lord Bingham, in EB Kosovo, as to the appellate function of the courts in deciding cases under Article 8. Clause 18 enables other circumstances to be taken into account. The insertion of “normally” is neither necessary nor desirable to achieve that outcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, referred to AP Herbert’s “Misleading Cases”. I well remember the series which starred Roy Dotrice, with Alastair Sim on the Bench. Looking back, it is quite possible that that is where I started in the career I eventually pursued. It was a fantastic series, well worthy of a repeat. This is not a misleading clause. It sets out what the public interest requires but it does not detract from the need for the courts to decide what Article 8 requires in a particular case. I hope that, with these reassurances, the noble Lord will agree to withdraw the amendment.