LETTER: A danger to our democracy

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I write as a recently retired tribunal judge.

Ten years of my working life were devoted to immigration and asylum issues.

I am driven to write because of the danger to our democracy caused by careless or deliberate misinformation.

I do not write for Remain, or for Leave – that is an issue for each individual.

1. Illegal entrants to this country are not the fault of the EU. Blame the countries they come from and the criminal people traffickers who bring them to these shores.

2. We do police our borders – how well is largely an issue of resources.

3. Our laws on Human Rights stem from the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ Centre December 1948. That declaration speaks of the human family and has this as its preamble – “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood” - a noble sentiment.

4. Whether we are in or out of the EU, unless we repeal our international obligations, this country will remain bound by the European Convention on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention which governs issues of asylum.

The EU had no part to play in drafting the ECHR or the Geneva Convention.

5. The European Court of Human Rights which oversees the way nations apply the ECHR is not part of the EU – it is entirely separate.

To give a clue Russia is a signatory to the ECHR.

6. The EU does seek to insist that all EU nations apply the ECHR and the Geneva Convention in a uniform manner – and to that extent the European Court of Justice does have oversight.

In reality that extra layer of oversight, which comes because of our membership of the EU, has little practical effect in the vast majority of cases.

7. Issues of asylum and human rights are governed by international laws and because they are international, courts of all countries will give credence to decisions made in other countries applying the same law.

8. We do deport foreign criminals, including criminals who are citizens of countries belonging to the EU.

In cases in which the criminal is a citizen of an EU country there is an additional test namely whether that criminal poses a risk to this country – there are grades of risk but I do not wish to become too technical. When a minister claims he can’t deport a foreign criminal what he really means is he has failed to prove that criminal falls within the category of criminal who should be deported – according to rules drawn by the Home Secretary, in part guided by our obligations as members of the EU. In any event dwelling on individual cases can lead to bad law.

9. For a country to remain democratic it is vital the “rule of law” applies. We lose our democracy if government and its ministers are not subject to the “rule of law”.

We should rejoice that occasionally a minister does not get his or her own way before our courts.

For me, human rights and asylum should have no part to play in the referendum debate – they only serve to obscure and confuse, unless dealt with in depth and by leading jurists and international lawyers – I am not one of that number.

In any case, whether in or out, I trust no one would suggest we no longer support those in danger in their own countries or disregard the rights of our fellow man.

John Fountain

Former First Tier Tribunal Judge,