The Supreme Court has now given permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision in SSHD v SS (Congo) & Ors  EWCA Civ 387. The court has directed that the appeal be heard on 22nd – 24th February 2016, alongside the case of MM (Lebanon).
The two cases deal with the government’s new Minimum Income Rules, which impose a minimum £18,600 income requirement before a non-EEA foreigner may join his or her partner in the UK. If the couple have a dependent child, this amount rises to £22,400, and increases further for every subsequent child. The income of the foreign partner on arrival in the UK is not taken into account, nor is any third party support, free accommodation, or savings the couple might have below the figure of £16,000.
Almost half the UK adult population do not meet these requirements, which are the highest in the world in relative terms, and the second highest in absolute terms. The impact on women, ethnic minorities, and those living in deprived areas is even worse, with a majority being deemed too poor to bring their foreign partner to the UK.
Because of the rules over 15,000 children, the vast majority British, are now living in enforced separation from one of their parents in what the Children’s Commissioner calls ‘Skype families‘. The Office for the Children’s Commissioner says:
“The Government is under a legal obligation to treat the best interests of children as a primary consideration when implementing rules and policies. The current family migration rules fall woefully short of this and children’s best interests are often reduced to a mere exception.“In an ongoing attempt to reduce migration the Government has introduced rules which are now adversely impacting on British citizen families and children. This must surely be an unintended consequence but one that must now be urgently addressed.
…“The result has been the separation of parents and children, heartache and misery. Some families cannot see how they can ever meet the rules and separation may be permanent.
I recently had to go to his school because he went through a period of anger … I understand he’s coming up to teenage years, but… he had a few anger issues and [talked] about wanting to smash things and not really hurting himself but wanting to break and smash stuff. He did also mention not wanting to live any more and he did go through a period of “why am I even bothering any more?” The doctor talked about the situation and asked him why he thought he was having those feelings and he said to her, “it’s because of my dad, because I can’t see my dad”. The doctor says we need to give him the tools to cope with his feelings as she knows we can’t fix it.”
There are countless more tens of thousands of British and UK settled residents kept apart from their partners due to their financial circumstances.
The case of MM deals with whether the rules are so harsh that they represent an inherently disproportionate interference in the right to a family life under Article 8 ECHR, or alternatively that they are lawful because the Secretary of State or a tribunal can allow cases on a discretionary basis even where the rules are not met. The case of SS looks at the width of that second stage – Theresa May arguing that consequences such as those identified above by the Children’s Commissioner are simply not good enough to qualify as an exception.
The Minimum Income Rules are the linchpin of the government’s immigration policy. The decision of the Supreme Court is likely to be the most significant human rights cases it has decided in years: in legal terms the extent to which government policy can determine the outcome of assessments of proportionality in Article 8, and in human terms by the tens of thousands of people’s lives it will affect.