Theresa May gets it wrong about a cat

The Home Secretary's conference speech shows she does not know what her own department is doing.

Today the Home Secretary got her facts wrong about a cat.

Speaking to the Conservative Party conference, Theresa May said:

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 a pet cat.

This story - one of a number of myths which those hostile to human rights law invoke without ever bothering to actually check - has been published before in newspapers, and it has already been dealt with by respected critical sites such as Full Fact and Tabloid Watch. All this was available to her speechwriters.

But what makes it worse is what was also known to her very own department.

The full determination of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal is here [PDF]. As Barry O'Leary, Partner at Wesley Gryk Solicitors, who acted for the foreign national, explains:

This case was not decided on the basis of a cat. It was decided on the basis of a Home Office policy which the Home Office themselves had failed to apply. This was accepted by the Home Office before the Immigration Judge and the Home Office agreed the appeal should be allowed. The ownership of a cat was immaterial. Any press reports to the contrary are, unfortunately, not based on fact.

The case involved a foreign national in a long term committed relationship with a British Citizen (they had been living together for four years at the time of the appeal.) He was not a foreign national prisoner.

I had made an application on the foreign national's behalf for the right to remain in the United Kingdom on the basis of a Home Office policy known as DP3/96.

The application was refused [by the Home Secretary] and my client appealed against that decision.

As part of the application and as part of the appeal, the couple gave detailed statements of the life they had built together in the United Kingdom to show the genuine nature and duration of their relationship. One detail provided, amongst many, was that they had owned a cat together for some time.

The appeal was successful and when giving the reasons for the success the judge did comment on the couple's cat. It was taken into account as part of the couple's life together.

The [Home Secretary] asked for the decision to be reconsidered. They argued it should be reconsidered because the decision was wrong in law, and one error they cited was that too much consideration was given to the couple's cat.

The [Home Secretary] was given permission to put the arguments to the tribunal and the decision of the tribunal is that of [Senior Immigration Judge] Gleeson.

It was decided by [Senior Immigration Judge] Gleeson that the first judge's decision was correct. As is clear from the determination, she came to this decision because the [Home Secretary] in refusing the application had not applied their own policy DP3/96 (which had been withdrawn but the transitional provisions should have been applied to my client).

It was made clear by the initial judge and then by [Senior Immigration Judge] Gleeson that the Appellant should benefit from that policy and be granted the right to remain.

Furthermore, it was accepted by the Home Office representative at the hearing before [Senior Immigration Judge] Gleeson that the policy should apply and any other errors in the initial decision by the judge (including too much detail on the cat) were immaterial.

See paragraph 6 of the determination. It makes clear that it is the former policy DP3/96 which is the basis on which the appeal was won.

[Senior Immigration Judge] Gleeson does go on to make a joke about the cat, clearly because she recognized that the discussion of the cat was irrelevant to the serious issue of applying Home Office policies correctly.

This case was won because the Home Office had a policy which they did not initially apply but later, through their representative, they accepted should have been applied.

What this means is that not only was the cat immaterial to the tribunal decision for the foreign citizen to remain, but that the Home Secretary's own representative fully accepted that the cat was immaterial to the decision.

So the Home Secretary in making her speech today not only got the facts of the case wrong, she also said something known by her own department to be untrue.

And I am not making this up.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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White supremacists are embracing genetic testing – but they aren't always that keen on the results

Users of far-right site Stormfront are resorting to pseudo science and conspiracy theories when DNA tests show they aren't as “pure” as they hoped.

The field of genomics and genetics have undergone almost exponential growth in recent years. Ventures like the Human Genome Project have enabled t humanity to get a closer look at our building blocks. This has led to an explosion in genetic ancestry testingand as of 6 April 2017 23AndMe, one of the most popular commercial DNA testing websites, has genotyped roughly 2 million customers.

It is perhaps unsurprising that one of the markets for genetic testing can be found among white suprmacists desperate to prove their racial purity. But it turns out that many they may not be getting the results they want. 

Stormfront, the most prominent white nationalist website, has its own definition of those who are allowed to count themselves as white - “non-Jewish people of 100 per cent European ancestry.” But many supremacists who take genetic tests are finding out that rather than bearing "not a drop" of non-white blood, they are - like most of us a conglomerate of various kinds of DNA from all over the world including percentages from places such as sub Saharan Africa and Asia. Few are taking it well.

Dr. Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, of UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and the research institute Data and Society respectively, presented a research study (currently under peer review for publication) at the American Sociological Association a week ago, analysing discussion of GAT on Stormfront forums. Panofsky, Donovan and a team of researchers narrowed down the relevant threads to about 700, with 153 users who had chosen to publish their results online. While Panofsky emphasised that it is not possible to draw many quantitative inferences, the findings of their study offer a glimpse into the white nationalist movement's response to science that doesn't their self perception. 

“The bulk of the discussion was repair talk”, says Panofsky. “Though sometimes folks who posted a problematic result were told to leave Stormfront or “drink cyanide” or whatever else, 'don’t breed', most of the talk was discussion about how to interpret the results to make the bad news go away”.

Overwhelmingly, there were two main categories of reinterpretation. Many responses dismissed GAT as flimsy science – with statements such as a “person with true white nationalist consciousness can 'see race', even if their tests indicate 'impurity'".

Other commentators employed pseudo-scientific arguments. “They often resemble the critiques that professional geneticists, biological anthropologists and social scientists, make of GAT, but through a white nationalist lens", says Panofsky. 

For instance, some commentators would look at percentages of non-European DNA and put it down to the rape of white women by non-white men in the past, or a result of conquests by Vikings of savage lands (what the rest of us might call colonialism). Panofsky likens this to the responses from “many science opponents like climate deniers or anti-vaxxers, who are actually very informed about the science, even if they interpret and critique it in idiosyncratic and motivated ways".

Some white nationalists even looked at the GAT results and suggested that discussion of 100 per cent racial purity and the "one drop" rule might even be outdated – that it might be better to look for specific genetic markets that are “reliably European”, even though geneticists might call them by a different name.

Of course, in another not totally surprising development, many of the Stormfront commentators also insisted that GAT is part of a Jewish conspiracy, “to confuse whites by sprinkling false diversity into test results".

Many of the experts in the field have admitted to queasiness about the test themselves; both how they come to their results and what they imply. There are several technical issues with GAT, such as its use of contemporary populations to make inferences about those who previously lived in different places around the world, and concerns that the diversity of reference samples used to make inferences is not fully representative of the real world. 

There are other specific complications when it comes to the supramacist enthusiasm for GAT. Some already make a tortous argument that white people are the “true people of color" by dint of greater variation in hair and eye color. By breaking up DNA into percentages (e.g. 30 per cent Danish, 20 per cent German), Panofsky says GAT can provide a further opportunity to “appropriate and colonise the discourse of diversity and multiculturalism for their own purposes". There's is also, says Panofsky, the simple issue that “we can’t rely on genetic information to turn white nationalists away from their views."

“While I think it would be nice if the lesson people would take from GAT is that white nationalism is incoherent and wrong. I think white nationalists themselves often take the exact opposite conclusion."