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.)

Getty
Show Hide image

"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

0800 7318496