Shami Chakrabarti on the Chindamo case and human rights

Shami Chakrabarti argues why David Cameron owes Mrs Lawrence an apology, and <a href="/200708240004"

David Cameron owes Mrs Lawrence an apology. It is always rather tawdry when politicians attempt to make capital from the misery of the bereaved, but to do so in such haste that you get the facts wrong is just plain irresponsible.

Mr Cameron has been performing his ‘scrap the Human Rights Act’ for a fair old while now- even to the embarrassment of many in his own party. His “Home Grown Bill of Rights with Common Sense” has yet to materialise and since he has promised to maintain Britain’s ratification of the ECHR, it is unlikely to differ dramatically from either the HRA or equivalent Rights’ instruments around the democratic world.

The truth is that save where deportation gives rise to a real risk of torture (i.e. Not the Chindamo case), the HRA and ECHR give you relatively little say about where you live. Article 8 (the right to privacy and respect for family life), is heavily qualified by a number of factors (economic as well as security-based). The Article 8 doctrine is that of simple “proportionality”. It is hard to see how this would not survive any Cameron or Brown coloured new Constitutional settlement. What could be more British or commonsensical than the notion that “the punishment should fit the crime”? The devil lies not in the law or principle but in genuine debates about application in various hard cases.

By contrast, the evolved law of the European Union contains a very strong presumption against immigration control (including deportation) of Union nationals- hardly surprising given the underlying ethos of free movement of goods, services and people within the community. Apart from anything else- what is the real point of deportation to a country with which you have an almost open border? This is the central reasoning of the Chindamo judgment but where is Mr Cameron’s recommencement of the European debate that has been so destructive to his party?

If a prisoner who has served the tariff portion of a life sentence is still a real danger to the people of Britain, Italy or Timbuktu, law and logic dictates that he or she should remain in custody. Whether that custody should be in Britain or somewhere else should be decided on the basis of family and other ties and finance (where is rehabilitation most likely and which exchequer should foot the bill). In relation to released prisoners, there will continue to be many circumstances where deportation is perfectly possible. However, politics does the public a disservice when the possibility becomes a panacea.

If I were the victim of a serious crime, I would be comforted neither by the knowledge that my assailant was true blue British, nor by the alternative possibility of deportation. I would rather not be a victim. If I lost a loved one to violent crime, who knows where my grief would take me? Perhaps even deportation would be too good for the perpetrator? Mrs Lawrence’s reaction is completely understandable. For meeting her genuine grief with his standard ill-considered sound bite - even if in August error rather than October premeditation, Mr Cameron owes her an apology.

Shami Chakrabarti is director of the human rights group Liberty

A Barrister by background, Shami Chakrabarti has been Director of Liberty (The National Council for Civil Liberties) since September 2003. She has been recently appointed a Governor of the London School of Economics and the British Film Institute and a Master of the Bench of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple.