Manchester diary, final day: cat flap!

And so the fourth and final day of party conference begins.

I was in the hall for Theresa May's speech yesterday about the human rights act which has apparently generated what one paper called a "cat-flap."

Whether or not she was right about the case of a burglar who supposedly escaped deportation because he had a cat, her essential point was undoubtedly right.

Which was that the section in the European Convention on Human Rights which lays out a right to family life has been applied unreasonably by some court decisions in a way that neither the proposers of the EHCR nor those of the Human Rights Act intended.

I remember when the act was going through. The pessimists and opponents of the act predicted that it would be used in perverse ways and put the human rights of criminals and terrorists above those of their victims and potential victims.

Optimists and supporters of the act pointed out - quite correctly as far as what the Act and the ECHR actually say - that they are supposed to be applied with common sense in a way which respects the human rights of all concerned and the interests of society, not just those of the accused and the criminal. Theresa May's speech specifically quoted the section of the ECHR which qualifies the "right to family life" in precisely this way.

As ever the outcome has been somewhere between the two extremes, and not all the court decisions based on the Human Rights Act, by any means, have been as perverse as those which often hit the papers.

For example, when I was planning portfolio holder for planning in St Albans, we had to deal with a family of "travellers" who repeatedly ignored planning rules and court decisions. The council launched a court action to put the head of the family in prison until they complied with the law. Despite an attempt by his lawyers to argue that this breached his human rights, the court accepted that the remainder of the community have human rights too, that travellers are not above the law, that he had ignored his duties and responsibilities under the law, and jailed him.

However, there have been some perverse instances where proven criminals, including the perpetrator convicted of one particularly infamous murder, have been able to avoid deportation at the conclusion of their sentences by misusing the ECHR provision of a "right to family life."

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the "cat burglar" this should not happen, and Theresa May is right to wish to clarify the law and the application of the ECHR to stop it happening.

This morning we have had a "Conservative Policy Forum" followed by a session on foreign affairs and defence. The final session of conference this afternoon will be a speech by David Cameron.


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