Home Secretary Theresa May has accused judges of "subverting" British democracy and making the streets of Britain more dangerous by ignoring new rules aimed at deporting more foreign criminals.
In a scathing attack, she vowed to introduce primary legislation to restrict the human rights of offenders after a minority of the judiciary decided to "ignore parliament's wishes". But she warned the delay in getting that onto the statute book would inevitably mean "more victims of violent crimes committed by foreigners in this country".
MPs approved new guidance for judges in July last year making clear the right to a family life - set out in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights - was only qualified. The change was designed to end a string of cases where it was used to justify granting foreign criminals the right to remain in the UK rather than being deported.
Labour questioned at the time whether the guidance would be sufficient to over-ride the precedent set by earlier cases and said it would support primary legislation. But writing in the Mail on Sunday, the Home Secretary pinned the blame squarely on the judges who have "got it into their heads that Article Eight...is an absolute, unqualified right.
"Unfortunately, some judges evidently do not regard a debate in Parliament on new immigration rules, followed by the unanimous adoption of those rules, as evidence that Parliament actually wants to see those new rules implemented," she wrote. One judge, she noted, had justified his decision on the basis that the new guidance had been subject only to "a weak form of Parliamentary scrutiny".
"It is essential to democracy that the elected representatives of the people make the laws that govern this country - and not the judges," she wrote. "Yet some judges seem to believe that they can ignore Parliament's wishes if they think that the procedures for parliamentary scrutiny have been 'weak'. That appears actually to mean that they can ignore Parliament when they think it came to the wrong conclusion."
Shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant said he remained in favour of legislation but said Mrs May's attack on the judges was an attempt to hide failed Government policy.
He said: "We are happy to look at any new changes to the law if they will help secure more deportations - in fact we told the Home Secretary that simply changing the guidance would be ineffective. She would have been better to get on with primary legislation last year.
"However, the fact is fewer foreign national offenders are being deported under this Tory-led Government; not because of human rights legislation or tribunal judgments but because the Home Secretary has allowed the UK Border Agency to descend into chaos. Talk of foreign nationals being unable to be deported due to human rights is at best marginal in terms of numbers and at worst a smokescreen to cover the failure of Theresa May's enforcement policies.
"The last Labour government operated with the same human rights in place and with the same judicial system and yet the number of prisoners deported was significantly higher - thousands higher in fact. How does this Home Secretary account for that? David Cameron and Theresa May should stop trying to blame others for their failure. They should get a grip and deport those that need to be removed from this country."