John Cooper is a QC, a broadcaster and human rights lawyer, and a part-time politician. He stood for Labour in Amber Valley, in my East Midlands Region, in 1992. He has been the Chairman of the League Against Cruel Sports, and once defended Dr. Crippen in a posthumous mock-trial.
Last night on the Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio Five Live, he was defending the right of a foreign child-rapist to remain in the UK, under the terms of the infamous European Convention on Human Rights, lest he suffer mistreatment if returned to Darfur. I was debating the issue with him. Catch the programme here, 1 hour twenty in.
Sani Adil Ali, aged 28, arrived in the UK from Darfur, Sudan, in 2003, and was granted asylum status in 2005. He was then accused of raping a twelve-year-old Hungarian girl, an offence which he admitted. He was held in jail until 2008. Since then he has been appealing against deportation (while presumably living at the public expense). Just recently, the Upper Tribunal Immigration and Asylum Chamber has ruled that he has a right to remain in the UK, under the terms of the ECHR. The UK Border Agency has expressed itself as “extremely disappointed”. I bet they are. I think they are probably hopping mad, as surely all decent people will be.
To be fair to John Cooper, he insisted that he held no brief for Mr. Ali, and made no attempt to defend his crime. But he also insisted that the Human Rights Act was there to defend all decent people, and if that meant that some wrong ’uns were protected too, well that was just the price we paid for the protection of the Act.
I have crossed swords before with Mr. Cooper. He loves to employ lawyerly tricks — like asking one to back up one’s criticism of the Human Rights Act with a long list of chapter-and-verse examples. Of course as a politician and not a law student, I don’t tend to make such lists, nor do I have them at my finger-tips. But I do know that example after example comes up of the ECHR producing palpably perverse outcomes, and I am quite happy to limit the discussion on each occasion to the example that Five Live has chosen to raise.
One point that Mr. Cooper repeatedly makes is that “The law can’t make moral judgements”. So it can’t decide to deport someone simply because he’s committed a crime. But that is surely a daft proposition. Courts pass sentences, and when doing so they can and must assess the severity of the offence. And human rights are not absolute. For a sufficiently serious crime, we are prepared to set aside the accused’s right to personal liberty. We put him in jail. In other cases we set aside his right to property — by fining him, or in some cases by confiscating the proceeds of crime. In principle I see no reason why we should not also set aside his right to asylum on the same basis, and send him home.
Surely the actual harm he inflicted on a child, and the risk that he will re-offend, outweigh any risk that he may be mistreated in his home country? And surely British law owes a duty of care first of all to British citizens (and law-abiding foreigners) ahead of any duty we may owe to foreign rapists?
Of course Mr. Cooper may be right that under the law as it stands, the Tribunal made a correct decision — though we may still ask if they adequately assessed the alleged risk. After all, all asylum seekers want to stay, and will exaggerate the alleged problems they may face if returned.
But if Mr. Cooper is right on the point of law, then the Law is an Ass, and should be repealed. I believe that the Human Rights Act has produced so many perverse outcomes, and caused such great anger and indignation amongst decent and right-thinking people, and subjected British people to such risks from rapists and terrorists, that it must be repealed.
Here Cooper’s defence is pathetic. “Would you give up rights to free speech, and so on and so on?”. Does he imagine that we had no rights to free speech before the wretched Human Rights Act was passed? Does he have no respect for British justice and our tradition of Common Law? Does he not know (and Stephen Nolan put this point to him very forcefully) that if the repeal of the Act led to any significant gaps, we could legislate for them here in Britain, without reference to foreign Conventions or foreign courts?
Cooper’s last point was that the ECHR had been drafted by British jurists after the Second World War, in order to prevent any repeat of Hitler’s atrocities. Indeed it was, John. And if those very jurists could see how their text has been abused and over-interpreted by politically-correct, activist judges, they would be turning in their graves.