In 1995 our immigration law was amended so that asylum applicants from countries that were designated as ‘safe’ no longer had a right to appeal against refusal unless their case was ‘certified’ by the Secretary of State. With a Border Agency prone to error, a risk arose that people with good cases might be unjustly be detained, speeded through a truncated process and deported.
Even the Home Office recognised that in some designated countries, there was endemic persecution of women. In 2005 an Order was made adding some countries to the list of those deemed safe, but for men only.
I asked for a similar exception be made for LGBT people, on the floor of the House and in correspondence with the Minister, Lord Bassam, pointing to the particular case of Jamaica, where, notoriously, homophobia was (and still is) rampant. The power to do so exists in law, but the Government refused to exercise it.
Over ten years later, after a good deal more unproductive correspondence and debates with both Labour and Tory Ministers, the Court of Appeal has come to the rescue!
In the case of JB (Jamaica), the court ruled that the claimant hqad been wrongly detained, and the designation of Jamaica as a safe country for LGBT people was unlawful.
The Government is spending public money on an appeal to the Supreme Court, but with luck, the genie’s out of the bottle. The whole subject of LGBT persecution, not just in Jamaica but also in a number of other Commonwealth countries where same sex relationships are outlawed, must surely be considered.
The Commonwealth Charter, agreed by member states last December, commits them to
“…equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies”.
Yet in Uganda, American evangelical missionaries openly incite hatred of gays, leading to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and the murder of the brave gay rights activist David Kato a year ago. In Gambia, homosexuality is illegal and President Jammeh refers to gays as ‘Satanic’.
Surely, these grave breaches of the Charter should attract condemnation from the Commonwealth Heads of Government when they meet in Sri Lanka in November.
In the meanwhile, the Government must demonstrate their commitment to equality between people of all sexual orientations, as provided by our own Equality Act, by withdrawing their appeal to the Supreme Court, and amending the immigration law to restore the right of gay people from homophobic states to appeal against refusal of asylum applications.
* Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury, is a working peer, and Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group. He blogs here.