The Times law report (15th July) concerned a Muslim school-age immigrant, granted asylum in France, who had come to the UK instead on the grounds that she was not permitted to wear the burka in French schools. She claimed that to be a human right and therefore the Home Secretary was wrong in seeking her return to France. The rights and wrongs of human rights and clothing indicating religion are not my concern. The issue here is the extent to which foreigners are entitled to legal representation to fight their cases at UK taxpayers’ expense. Some lawyers claim that justice has no price but can that really be so?
In this case, Mr Justice Hickinbottom refused a judicial review of the Home Secretary’s decision. On 24th June, the Court of Appeal, being the Master of the Rolls and two other Lord Justices, resoundingly supported the earlier judgment. The appellant needed to show that there was a “flagrant violation” of the European Convention on Human Rights. In this case, there was no violation at all, never mind flagrant.
Although the report does not say so, it is hard to believe that this school-age asylum seeker had the funds to cover the original hearing, still less the appeal. Perhaps we will be paying for a further appeal to the European Court of Human Rights itself even though the ECHR has already ruled several times that France is entitled to ban the burka in schools so long as it does not do so in general. Other forms of education are available, e.g. distance learning.
Some will feel that an asylum seeker is lucky to be accepted at all and such acceptance should not entitle them, free of charge, to the full panoply of rights built up and paid for by the citizens. Obviously as time goes by and they integrate, so their rights should build up but not immediately and certainly not before they have gained admission.
One solution would be to require asylum seekers as part of their acceptance to sign, with legal advice, a binding agreement that they are not entitled to legal aid until assimilated into the country as defined by learning the language to conversational level, paying UK taxes for, say, five years and not being found guilty of a crime normally punishable by a prison sentence.
Some will say that the last is both unfair and inefficient. In effect they would be deemed guilty before being judged and self-defence by someone without the language would clog up the courts. But the present system lands the UK taxpayer with the not inconsiderable cost of prison followed by a failure to expel them, as we legally can, because deportation is appealed and the Home Office is overwhelmed by cases. The UK taxpayer funds not only the legal costs of asylum seekers’ “rights” but all the associated civil service, police and imprisonment costs.
Time for a review?