One of the big stories from the Tory Party conference is the resurrection of the proposal to leave the European Council’s Human Rights court. Several correspondents elsewhere question both the moral sense and the political tactics of pursuing this policy. David Allen Green has created a page on his blog to act as an index on the pro and anti views and includes links to the Conservative Party proposals and press release; the views of most lawyers are against the proposed reforms. This article at Head of Legal blog makes it clear that the end game of some their proponents is abandoning the European Convention on Human Rights. At the centre of the rebuttal is the question asked by Lord Bingham, which of the Rights is wrong. The Head of Legal Blog extensively quotes Martin Howe who is critical of the court to the extent of wanting to leave and Dominic Grieve, the last Attorney General who while critical of the court feels that the UK’s attempt to opt-out will destroy it which would be a loss to the citizens of the UK and Europe.
Nick Cohen in the Guardian accuses the Tories of playing with fire. He correctly states that Human Rights are a defence against over mighty states and governments, although this government has been attacking the effective right to apply for judicial review. He examines the suggestion that it’s about the judges and not the law, but asks why bother if that’s the case. He accuses the right in the Tory party of a more malevolent agenda, based on the concept of earned rights and reminiscent of the Tory debate on Europe suggests that they’ll not go away; after all Cameron has already fired Clarke, Green and Grieve. I think we can see why now.
Interestingly, Peter Oborne in the Telegraph makes similar points. He raises the point that the ECHR was written by Conservative lawyers, and designed to defend individual liberty against the State. He reminds us that the Labour Party leadership were suspicious of the proposals. It was written just after the 2nd World War when the visibility and the real threat of Communist and Fascist oppression was all too visible or memorable. The leading thinker behind the proposals, David Maxwell- Fyfe had been one of the prosecutors at the Nuremberg war tribunals and went on to become a Tory MP. Oborne sees a difference between Cameron’s speech and that of his Justice Minister, Chris Grayling. Oborne states that “in an apparent act of defiance”, he makes it clear that Britain might withdraw from the ECHR. He then states,
This is potentially a wretched moment in the history not just of the Conservative Party but also of Britain. Ultimately the British are respected around the world for the authority of our great institutions: parliament, the free press, an independent civil service, the monarchy, an independent judiciary embodying the rule of law.
Sadiq Kahn, Labours Shadow Justice spokesman reiterates the importance of the ECHR in article in the New Statesman, strangely eulogising David Maxwell-Fyfe. These three commentators, only ahn can be considered to be on the left, all make the point that the ECHR is a right wing, individualistic list of rights. Collective rights, and the definition that rights must be effectively available are ignored and were deliberately excluded from the ECHR.
The proponents of change need to listen because if the Left were to start from scratch, we’d be considering placing in a Human Rights charter, the duty to pay tax, right to free education, the right to affordable housing, fair wages and free access to health care. All things that the political right excluded in the 1940’s and continue to undermine today Furthermore, these collective rights are included in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So bring it on, you want a British Bill of Rights, let’s have one and put right what we got wrong in 1951.
On another matter, I can’t see why they go here. If we look at the recent cases where the UK has lost, and understand the reasons. The court’s prohibited the extradition of accused people to places where courts can use evidence gained through torture, as did the UK courts. We can’t prohibit all prisoners from voting and we can’t bang people up for ever without a review process. Are these really the tests the Tories want to stand by … the admissibility of evidence gathered through torture, loss of liberty is the punishment for crime, not the loss of a vote, and we should review real life sentences because people change!
The featured picture is by Mark Seton, @flickr CC BY-NC 2012. The inline picture is by Outlandos [ym] @flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2014.