Case Study: AM (Zimbabwe) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (2020)

The Supreme Court blocked attempts by the Home Office to deport an individual who had been convicted of several serious offences back to Zimbabwe. This was because the individual had HIV and his life would likely be shortened if he was returned to Zimbabwe where he would be unlikely to receive the treatment he required. This case highlights the ongoing tension between the collective rights of society and the rights of the individual. AM was born in 1987 and is a national of Zimbabwe. He arrived in the UK in 2000 to join his mother, and he was granted indefinite leave to remain in 2004. In 2006, AM was convicted of a number of criminal offences and sentenced to a total of 12 months’ imprisonment. In 2009, AM was convicted of offences relating to possession of a firearm and supply of heroin, and he was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment. The Secretary of State seeks to deport AM. However, AM is HIV positive. He was placed on the anti-retroviral medication, Eviplera, after having first tried another medication which produced significant side-effects. If AM is deported to Zimbabwe, a range of anti-retroviral medications would be available, but not Eviplera. 

Lord Wilson opened his judgment in the case of AM (Zimbabwe) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (2020) with these words:

‘This appeal requires the court again to consider one of the most controversial questions which the law of human rights can generate. It relates to the ability of the UK to deport a foreign citizen who, while lawfully resident here, has committed a string of serious crimes. The reaction of many British citizens is likely to be: “We don’t want this man here.”. His response is: “But I need to remain here.” In this case he no longer casts his response under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“the Convention”) by reference to respect for his private and family life. Instead, he wishes to cast it under article 3 of the Convention which provides: No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ For the appellant is HIV positive. He is a citizen of Zimbabwe and his contention, which for reasons which I will explain has not yet been fully developed still less tested, is that, if deported to Zimbabwe, he would be unable to access the medication which, here in the UK, prevents his relapse into full-blown AIDS. So considerations of public policy on the one hand and of what is said to be private existential need on the other clash like warriors; and upon the courts lies a heavyburden in determining which should, under the law, prevail.’