Posted on August 30, 2011

The Law Is ‘Avin a Laugh–But the Joke Is on Britain

Allison Pearson, Telegraph (London), August 24, 2011

‘They drive me mad, too.” That’s what the Prime Minister told me in a more innocent time, before the riots. Back in April, I was sitting in Number 10, reading him a list of the human rights abuses that drive the public to despair. I don’t mean abuses under the Human Rights Act 1998. I mean abuses of the rights of humans whose children have been mown down by foreign drivers with no licence, humans whose husbands have been stabbed to death. Humans still astounded by grief who have to attend a British court and hear a judge tell them that the conscienceless wretch who extinguished their happiness cannot be deported post haste or hurled, preferably, over the white cliffs of Dover. No, the wretch must be allowed to remain in our country because they have the right to “a family life”.

I keep a shoebox stuffed with newspaper cuttings about such cases. They bring to mind the Ricky Gervais catchphrase, “Are you ‘avin a laugh?” On Saturday, I added another surreal snippet to the pile. The Court of Appeal in its wisdom had just torn up powers that allowed judges to ban convicted paedophiles from unfettered access to their children. Apparently, the paedophile’s right to a family life must be taken into account, even if the kids in question fear Dad’s tread at the bedroom door. Are their honours ‘avin a laugh?

Our judges’ ever-widening definition of what constitutes “family life” almost dislocated my jaw recently when a Bolivian immigrant escaped deportation because he owned a pet cat with his girlfriend. We cannot know the name of the moggy, let alone the Bolivian, but Judge Judith Gleeson joked that the cat “need no longer fear having to adapt to Bolivian mice”. Was she ‘avin a laugh?

Here’s another. In a landmark ruling, Strasbourg judges decided that two Somali men, who had abused our hospitality by robbery, drug dealing and threats to kill, could not be deported because there was a possibility they might face “ill treatment” at home. Remember the case of Mustafa Jama who was was convicted for his part, along with two other Somalians, in the murder of WPC Sharon Beshenivsky in November 2005? Jama, who had previous convictions for robbery and burglary, had been considered for deportation shortly before that tragic shooting, but officials decided it was “too dangerous” for him to return to Somalia. After the cold-blooded killing of Sharon–mother to Samuel, Lydia and Paul–in a Bradford travel agency, Jama evaded capture for four years by fleeing to… guess where? Yup, Somalia. The very place his lawyers had claimed it was unsafe for him to return to. Were they ‘avin a laugh? Sharon’s widower, Paul, certainly wasn’t. He said his wife would never have been murdered if “do-gooders” hadn’t kept her killer in Britain.

Why are we powerless to send these frightening, violent individuals back to where they came from? Because, according to the European Court, it’s too frightening and violent. Anything I’m missing here, chaps? Are our learned friends in Strasbourg ‘avin a laugh? If so, there is no longer a shred of doubt that the joke is on the British people. A nation that carried the torch of liberty with Magna Carta, parliamentary sovereignty, judicial independence, Press freedom, habeas corpus and trial by jury needs no lessons in justice from its pious neighbours, who loaded Jews, gipsies and homosexuals into cattle trucks. The waffly preamble to the European Convention on Human Rights speaks of “countries which have a common heritage of political traditions, ideas, freedom and the rule of law”. Well, we don’t have a common heritage or laws. As the distinguished QC Geoffrey Robertson has pointed out, torture was a prescribed part of the Continental legal process for centuries after it was abolished in England in 1641. It was Great Britain, not Europe, that taught the world how to right human wrongs.

The riots have made scrapping the Human Rights Act more urgent. More than 150 people born abroad have been arrested so far. Immigration minister Damian Green said: “We strongly believe that foreign national lawbreakers should be removed from the UK at the earliest opportunity.” Good luck with that, Damian. You do realise the poor darlings can’t possibly leave the country, don’t you? They’ve got pussy cats to look after and drug addicts to supply.

While judges increasingly warp Article 8 of the Convention in favour of villains, why do they never seem to consider the right to a family life of people like Frances Lawrence and the four children she had with headmaster Philip? In 2007, the Home Office failed to secure the deportation of Learco Chindamo, Mr Lawrence’s murderer. An Asylum and Immigration Tribunal insisted that to deport the Italian-Filipino would breach his human rights. Like Paul Beshenivsky, Frances Lawrence was aghast to discover that the needs of her spouse’s killer outweighed those of her bereft family.

Chindamo, who was cleared in court yesterday of a street robbery, is a cocky youth who, like so many, had been emboldened by the knowledge that wrongs, however grievous, will never prevent him having human rights on his side. He is one of thousands of foreign-born criminals who have humiliated the Home Office and who have shown with brutal clarity that the law of the land is not ours, for what Briton in their right mind would put the domestic comfort of a murderer before the safety of their fellow citizens?

This is what Cameron was getting at in his forceful speech following the riots. He noted how the “greed and thuggery” could not be separated from the “growing sense that individual rights come before anything else… I am determined we get a grip on the twisting and misrepresenting of human rights.”

Three cheers for those noble words, Prime Minister, but what the hell are you going to DO about it? In Opposition, Cameron pledged to scrap the Human Rights Act “so we can throw foreign terrorists and criminals out of our country”. When I asked him about it in April, he looked exasperated. “Obviously, this is something which is more difficult in Coalition. I won’t hide that from you. The Liberal Democrats have a different view on the Human Rights Act.” He assured me the Government was setting up a commission to look into a British Bill of Rights. What he omitted to tell me was that Nick Clegg would be in charge of it. I’m sorry, but allowing the Deputy Prime Minister to head a body to scrap the Human Rights Act is like appointing a vegan to the Texas Beef Council.

Tensions in the Coalition are said to be running high with senior Lib Dems warning the PM not to “water down” Britain’s commitment to human rights. Good. Let battle commence. Some things are worth fighting for. As a sop to his Coalition partners, Cameron permitted a referendum on the AV voting system, a notion commanding such widespread support that only Eddie Izzard and five blind jugglers in Camden voted for it. So why can’t we have a referendum on something the public feels passionate about? Like a British Bill of Rights.

The PM could do himself and the country a power of good by jettisoning a law that makes a mockery of the very justice it is intended to dispense. To stiffen his resolve, here are some sage words from a predecessor in Number 10. “We are with Europe but not of it; we are linked but not compromised. We are associated but not absorbed. If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea.”

Winston Churchill’s words are as relevant as they were on May 11, 1953. The time for Strasbourg ‘avin a laugh at our expense must end. The case for a British Bill of Rights is overwhelming. Human rights can be wrongs.

When forgiveness goes a step too far

All together now, “Serm taymes it’s hurd to bay a wurman.” Tammy Wynette’s ballad of female loyalty, Stand By Your Man, was much mocked by feminists. Some thought Tammy was really singing, “Stabbed By Your Man” or the equally catchy “Let Me Be Your Doormat, You Cheating Bastard.” Wynette pointed out that the song was not actually about subservience, but rather advice to women to overlook their husband’s faults if they truly loved them. “Aftur ol, he’s jusst ur may-an.”

I have come to see the wisdom in Tammy’s approach. Forgiveness is good. Even so, the nauseating sight of French heiress and journalist Anne Sinclair standing by her man, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, sets a new low. The former IMF chief may have been acquitted of attempted rape against a hotel maid, but is there anyone who can look at that swaggering silverback primate without a shudder? Ugh.

In the unlovely phrase of Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers, the encounter with Nafissatou Diallo was “brief but consensual”. Whatever the truth, we can be sure that the man who planned to be France’s president rampaged out of the hotel bathroom with only a droit de seigneur to cover his Tour Eiffel. Applying the indulgent term “Lothario” or “libertarian lover” to a priapic bully won’t do any more.

Anne Sinclair is badly out of step with her fellow countrywomen. France is unlikely ever to be the same again post-DSK. There has been a big increase in reports of sexual harassment. Sylvie Kauffmann, the first female editor of Le Monde, says: “There is a tendency among men to pretend that nothing has happened. In the establishment mind, this issue is not very important. But I would bet that the average voter may feel differently.”

Let’s hope Frenchwomen treat DSK’s political ambitions with all the tender concern he showed the hotel maid. And shame on his indulgent wife. If Tracey Emin needed a tent to contain the names of all the people she had slept with, DSK needs a marquee.