Learco Chindamo, the Italian-born Londoner who at the age of 15 murdered headmaster Philip Lawrence, has won a legal battle against the Home Office. Foreign prisoners are routinely deported at the end of their sentence, but Chindamo argued successfully that, having lived most of his life in Britain, he should be allowed to stay here once he's released. The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal heard that Chindamo has no links with Italy, no family there, and doesn't even speak the language - and that sending him there would be in breach of his human rights.
The reaction from the inhuman right has been rather predictable. The Daily Mail carries a photo of Frances Lawrence, her life ruined by Chindamo's senseless act of violence, with the caption "What about MY rights?". Today's leader is a foaming diatribe against human rights - those of criminals, apparently, are "exalted", whereas those of crime victims matter "not a jot". Iain Dale, writing somewhat more calmly and thoughtfully than the Mail, takes a similar line. He argues that the Lawrence family must forever live with the risk of running into the killer of their husband and father, which is a clear breach of their own rights.
It's easy to sympathise. The situation is clearly not fair - Mr Lawrence was killed for no reason, ripped out of the heart of his family. His right to life wasn't respected, and nothing on earth can right the wrong of his untimely death. It must be galling for his family to see Mr Chindamo's right to a family life protected (under section 8 of the ECHR) when he entirely ignored the most fundamental right of his victim.
But this is where we, as liberals, must hold our nerve. The entire point of human rights is that they apply to everyone, without prejudice, from the worthiest saint to the cruellest killer, because they are fundamental. And as The Independent correctly points out, human rights are not a zero sum game. Justice for the Lawrence family does not mean carrying out an injustice against Chindamo, who, once he has served out his sentence, will have paid his debt as best he can under any human system of justice.
Aside from the issue of rights, there are some important practical considerations. All EU citizens can travel freely in all EU countries, and it's very doubtful whether we could stop Chindamo from re-entering Britain. It's also fairly obvious that his chances of reoffending will be far greater if he's deported to a country where he has no connections, can't speak the language, and has no chance of building a stable and legitimate career for himself. And despite the Mail's assertion that Chindamo is a "squalid undesirable", it appears that he has used his 12 years behind bars to prepare himself for a useful life once he gets outside, learning how to read, passing four GCSEs, and mentoring youths who have become stuck in the cycle of gang culture.
A tiny minority of prisoners have been told they will die behind bars. Most know that someday they will re-enter the outside world - and for the safety of everyone, they should be let out in a state where they can lead decent, law-abiding and useful lives. Mr Chindamo, despite his horrible crime, is a good example of what our criminal justice system should be aiming for. It's utterly distasteful that a 15-year-old criminal can be condemned as a total lost cause, whatever his offence.
The dilemmas surrounding criminal justice are difficult for liberals. It's a thankless debate, because if we stick to our principles, we're sometimes forced to support the rights of some deeply unpopular and even deeply wicked characters. The obvious temptation is to keep quiet. The harder road is to tackle the question directly, and put forward an articulate and loud defence of universal human rights, explaining that we can only benefit from them ourselves if we're prepared to extend them unconditionally to all human beings. We might not win over the Daily Mail's editorial team, but we'll earn far more respect in the long run.