Only in England...
By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent
Published: 9:45PM BST 17 Oct 2009
The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal ruled that sending the Bolivian man back to his homeland would breach his human rights because he was entitled to a "private and family life", and joint ownership of a pet was evidence that he was fully settled in this country.
Lawyers for the Home Secretary were aghast at the decision by James Devittie, an immigration judge, to allow the immigrant to stay in Britain. They lodged an appeal, but their case was again rejected.
Delivering her decision on the case, which is thought to have cost the taxpayer several thousand pounds, Judith Gleeson, a senior immigration judge, joked in the official written ruling that the cat "need no longer fear having to adapt to Bolivian mice".
Barry O'Leary, solicitor for the Bolivian, said that the court was told that man and his girlfriend had purchased the animal together, and it was therefore "one detail among many" that they were in a committed relationship.
"As part of the application and as part of the appeal, the couple gave detailed statements of the life they had built together in the UK to show the genuine nature and duration of their relationship," he said.
"One detail provided, among many, was that they had owned a cat together for some time.
"The appeal was successful and when giving the reasons for the success the judge did comment on the couple's cat. It was taken into account as part of the couple's life together.
"The Home Office asked for the decision to be reconsidered. They argued it should be reconsidered because the decision was wrong in law, and one error they cited was that too much consideration was given to the couple's cat."
Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, said: "Sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or cry. If pet ownership is going to be used as a reason for deciding immigration cases then the law really is an ass.
"This is clearly not a sensible use of human rights legislation which is designed to protect people's basic needs."
The case comes a week after The Sunday Telegraph disclosed how the same court had given permission for more than 50 foreign criminals, including killers and sex offenders, to avoid deportation because of human rights concerns.
A court's consideration of the right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights often focuses on whether an immigrant should stay in Britain because they have children who were born in this country. However, this is believed to be the first time the courts have been asked to attach weight to joint custody of a pet.
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: "We were disappointed by the court's decision in this case.
"The UK Border Agency vigorously opposes any appeal against detention, deportation or removal but if the courts insist an individual cannot be removed we have to accept their judgement."
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of MigrationwatchUK, which campaigns against mass immigration, said: "Drawing pets into the consideration of issues of such importance is so utterly absurd that you could not make it up.
"I despair. This is symptomatic of the attitude held by many of the judiciary, which is complete disregard for the impact of such decisions on the future of our community."
Mr O'Leary added that his client originally brought the case because he should have benefited from a Home Office policy on unmarried partners which gives credit to couples who have been together more than two years. The Bolivian had been with his partner for four years, he said.
"It was made clear by the initial judge and then by Senior Immigration Judge Gleeson that the appellant should benefit from that policy and be granted the right to remain," he said.
"Furthermore, it was accepted by the Home Office representative at the hearing before Judge Gleeson that the policy should apply and any other errors in the initial decision by the judge, including too much detail on the cat, were immaterial."
He added: "This case was won because the Home Office had a policy which they did not initially apply but later, through their representative, they accepted should have been applied."
A spokesman from the Judicial Communications Office said: "This was a case in which the Home Office conceded that they had mistakenly failed to apply their own policy for dealing with unmarried partners of people settled in the UK."
Photo: Judge Gleeson