Immigrant cat story: Ken Clarke 'regrets' jibe at May
- 6 October 2011
- From the section UK Politics
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has said he regrets attacking "childlike" examples of human rights rulings used by Home Secretary Theresa May.
She has said the case of an illegal immigrant who could not be deported "because he had a pet cat" showed why the Human Rights Act "needs to go".
Mr Clarke told the Nottingham Post the story was "nonsense", but later said he "regretted" his "colourful language".
The judiciary said the cat was not a factor in the man's right to stay.
Mrs May made the comments in her Conservative conference speech this week.
In it she outlined plans to change immigration rules to reduce the number of foreign criminals and illegal immigrants successfully claiming the "right to family life" under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to avoid deportation.
She blamed the Human Rights Act - a UK law which incorporates the principles of the ECHR into UK law - for various examples of foreign criminals who were not deported.
She said: "The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because - and I am not making this up - he had a pet cat. This is why I remain of the view that the Human Rights Act needs to go."
But the claim was immediately disputed by the judiciary, human rights campaigners and Mr Clarke himself, who told the BBC after the speech he could not believe anyone was refused deportation because they owned a cat.
In his interview with his local newspaper, Mr Clarke said Mrs May should "address her researchers and advisers very severely" over the "nonsense example".
Mr Clarke is chairing a commission with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to look at a possible UK Bill of Rights. The Conservatives had pledged to replace the Human Rights Act with such a bill before the general election.
But when they went into coalition with the Lib Dems, they agreed instead to set up the commission to look into the issue.
The prime minister and the home secretary want a new Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act - but Mr Clegg told his conference that it was "here to stay".
Mr Clarke told the newspaper: "It's not only the judges that all get furious when the home secretary makes a parody of a court judgement, our commission who are helping us form our view on this are not going to be entertained by laughable child-like examples being given."
He added: "We have a policy and in my old-fashioned way, when you serve in a government you express a collective policy of the government, you don't go round telling everyone your personal opinion is different."
Later Mr Clarke said in a statement his remarks were "old news from an interview I gave during the Conservative Party conference".
"I consider this issue closed," he said. "There is a problem with deporting foreign prisoners, which I have always agreed with Theresa needs to be addressed."
But he added: "I do rather regret the colourful language I used at one point in my interview."
Mrs May stood by her speech, saying: "I don't regret using the case of the cat. It was a decision made by an immigration judge.
"But it was one case among many - and I cited others in my speech - which show the importance of this government doing something about the immigration rules to ensure that we're able to deport foreign criminals who we don't believe should be here."
The two cabinet colleagues later left a meeting in Downing Street together, smiling, but they did not answer further questions about the row.
The case at the centre of the row occurred in 2008 and involved a Bolivian student who said he could show he had a proper, permanent relationship with his partner and should not be deported.
In the original ruling by Immigration Judge James Devittie, reference was made to various examples of the life they had built together, including their "joint acquisition" of a cat, Maya, which the judge said "reinforces my conclusion on the strength and quality of the family life that appellant and his partner enjoy".
The judge allowed the student's challenge to attempts to deport him, using Article 8 of the ECHR.
The Home Office challenged the ruling, but the higher tribunal also allowed the man to stay. Its judgement, which superseded the earlier decision, had nothing to do with the cat. It said the Home Office had failed to follow its own immigration rules for settled unmarried couples.