Theresa May has been in the news recently, as she introduces plans to stop spouses coming to Britain unless they have savings of £18,000 and an additional £2,400 for each foreign born child they bring with them. The Home Secretary told Andrew Marr earlier this morning:
‘It is important that we say you should be able to support yourselves and not be reliant on the state.’
She also reiterated her intention to stop foreign prisoners, whose family live in Britain, from using article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes the right to ‘private and family life’, to resist deportation. She is going call a vote in the Commons next week to determine the balance between the interests of prisoners and the wider public. She said that she expected judges to respect the wishes of parliament when deciding these cases in future, and added that the government would legislate if they do not.
What will parliament consider next week? The convention, itself, is slightly conflicted. The right to ‘private and family life’ is not absolute; it is subject to restrictions that are ‘necessary in a democratic society’. It may be that parliament decides to close the article 8 defence to foreign prisoners on those grounds. But, against that, is the classical conception of human rights, which prohibits the state from interfering in the lives of innocent people. Parliament is not only being asked to consider the rights of the prisoner, but also those of his family. Do they deserve to be separated geographically by the state? Or, to put it another way, should the sins of the father be visited on the son?
These are difficult philosophical and practical questions and it will be interesting to see how parliament tackles them, and then if the judiciary acquiesces to its demands.