Cat had nothing to do with failure to deport man

4 October 2011 by

Updated | Today the Home Secretary Theresa May gave a speech to the Conservative Party Conference in which she announced new immigration rules which would make it easier to deport foreign criminals.

May also gave three examples in support of the view that the Human Rights Act “has to go”:

We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act. The violent drug dealer who cannot be sent home because his daughter – for whom he pays no maintenance – lives here. The robber who cannot be removed because he has a girlfriend. The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had pet a cat.

The most startling of those examples is of course the final one, that an illegal immigrant could not be deported because he “had a pet cat”. As regular readers of this blog will know, there are plenty of mythical examples regularly peddled in order to criticise human rights law. Is the cat deportation one of them?

Straightforwardly, yes. The decision of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal by Senior Immigration Judge Gleeson (IA/14578/2008), dated 1 December 2008, can be read here. It is only two and a half pages long. Judge Gleeson explained that the reconsideration was granted in reference to

the inappropriate weight placed on the appellant having to leave behind not only his partner but also their joint cat, [ ]

The judge rather cheekily anonymised the cat’s name, which is almost certainly an attempt at humour, given the final line of the judgment:

The Immigration Judge’s determination is upheld and the cat, [ ], need no longer fear having to adapt to Bolivian mice.

This misplaced (in retrospect) humour aside, why did the Home Office lose the reconsideration? Because it had failed to follow its own guidance, specifically paragraph 53.4.1: Procedures when dealing with an offender who is the unmarried partner of a person present and settled in the UK of the United Kingdom Border Agency enforcement instructions and guidance.

That guidance had been issued earlier in the same year. It essentially compelled the UKBA to give more weight to the relationships of unmarried couples who had been together for over 2 years, that is “partnerships akin to marriage”, when making immigration decisions. In such cases:

Where a person makes representations after the commencement of enforcement action, on the basis of a common law or same sex relationship, the normal course will be to proceed to enforcement action unless it is clear that the couple had lived together for 2 years or more before enforcement action commenced and that the parties are not involved in a consanguineous relationship with one another.

The guidance had not been considered by the Home Office until the day of the appeal. Counsel for the Home Office “accepted [it] applied to the present appeal” and therefore

accepted that any error in the determination was immaterial. Had the transitional provisions been properly applied, the Immigration Judge would have been entitled to allow the appeal under DP3/96 as he had in fact done.

So had the policy been properly applied, the immigration judge would have had to allow the appeal anyway, cat or no cat. And not only did the decision have nothing to do with a cat, it also had nothing to do with human rights either. The decision was based on European free movement law (the man’s partner was European so the rules applied to him too).

The Home Secretary’s confusion probably arises as a result of a number of press articles in 2009 which wrongly blamed the cat for the decision, as pointed out in this post by Tabloid Watch at the time.

It was heartening to hear the Home Secretary read out Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in full during her speech. More politicians should go back to the source to explain what the law means. And there are undoubtedly some difficult issues to be approached in relation to the European Court of Human Rights’ somewhat expansive interpretation of Article 8.

The head of the Court of Appeal Lord Neuberger said in a recent speech:

It is a sign of a healthy democracy that there are different views within society and that the outcome of individual cases, and the balance struck between individual rights, can be vigorously debated. But such debates must be based on fact not misconception, deliberate or otherwise. Persuasion should be based on truth rather than propaganda.

Human rights should be debated vigorously but also accurately. In this case, a bit more curiosity could have killed the cat.

Update, 5 October 2011 – See my follow-up post The lessons of shaggy dogs and Catgate

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  1. Amicus says:

    It should be a Spitting Image sketch but unfortunately it’s not. Our Home Secretary really has no legal knowledge whatsoever and is completely lacking in integrity. The future of equality and human rights protection in this country is unsafe in this woman’s hands.

  2. ObiterJ says:

    A deft destruction of Theresa May’s risible comment. Unfortunately, such comments are meat and drink to the tabloids.

  3. ‘So, the Home Secretary doesn’t know the meaning of the expression ratio decidendi.’

    she probably thinks it is the latin name of a species of rodent caught by the non human-rights-connected cat.

  4. Stephen says:


    As far as I can glean the cat influenced the decision only so far as its joint purchase signified a genuine relationship between the couple. The cat itself was not deemed to form part of the family – it was the joint purchase of said cat that corroborated the existence and sincerity of the bond between the human couple and hence that a genuine familial relationship existed. Someone who buys a wedding ring is in all probability intending to marry. A couple who jointly purchase a cat are in all probability intending to settle down with each other. Hence the cat, in this instance, is a valid indicator that family life (between the human couple) existed. The purchase of the cat was one of several considerations used to form an opinion as to whether family life existed. Ms May put a nasty spin on the case by suggesting that a relationship between a human and a cat constituted family life under the HRA. It does not and nor did the judge or tribunal suggest that it did.

    You are quite right on one point though – truth hurts.

  5. But the cat has, of course, given the tabloids their angle on the story!

  6. Mike farrell says:

    This entire story has been incredibly funny today, but at the same time very serious. The home secretary has already this week signalled her desire to see the HRA replaced, supported by the PM, and this story just goes to show that it appears the conservatives will go to any lengths to convince the public that replacement is the way forward, although in my opinion their reasons for doing so are unsupported by nothing more than spin and lies, including the PMs twisting of the prison van round trip recently and his choice to use provocative slogans such as ‘chilling effect’ of the HRA. Thank god May shot herself publicly in the foot with this one, if it goes someway to revealing the truth about our deceitful MP’s treatment of Human rights law then that can only be a good thing.

  7. Britain is about to get its ass kicked over retention of innocent folks DNA samples too.

  8. truthhurts says:

    It seems to say this is an appeal. Statement 2:

    2. The grant of reconsideration refers to the inappropriate weight placed on the appellant having to leave behind not only his partner but also their joint cat, [ ] More significantly, the Secretary of State argued that the Immigration Judge had erred in law in applying a withdrawn policy, DP3/96, which no longer applied at the date of decision.

    It seems that the cat was taken into account. Any chance we can see something from the original case. We can then see what the original justification was. Seems like May is correct,.

  9. Matt Sellwood says:

    I doubt the Home Secretary knows the meaning of the expression “reading”.

  10. sorzen R says:

    The attention of the Home Secretary should be drawn to the following :there is no such thing as a blanket application of Article 8.

  11. moneo says:

    silly …from a nasty party ..nasty and silly.

  12. So, the Home Secretary doesn’t know the meaning of the expression ratio decidendi.

  13. Lucy says:

    it’s a shame reality isn’t more popular in the conservative party.. ah well, if it aint broke why fix it, eh? ;)

  14. Clive Sinclair says:

    Don’t forget the newspapers who print the very same information – without checking details first. Again proving they put profits before truth.

    Of course that is all irrelevant – deport them and let them appeal from their own country. That will root out the frauds – of which there are plenty.

  15. Stephen says:

    Yes, but she won’t be called out for lying. I expect the BBC TV news will give Ms May a helping hand by reporting the relevant extract verbatim without comment or qualification. Vast swathes of the population will thus have been successfully duped. The Daily Mail will be very pleased.

  16. Exact same thing happened last year with Lord Roger’s comments on Kylie and cocktails in Supreme Court LGBT asylum decision.

    Doesn’t mean humour from judges is a bad thing …

  17. Mike Barnes says:

    Thanks for that. Another human rights myth blown apart. Don’t you just love it when politicians get called out for lying?

    1. Rose says:

      yes we love it! But the sad part is that so many are actually falling for this propaganda and agreeing the HRA needs scrapping … scary stuff! Politcians and media alike should be held accountable for spreading disinformation!

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