Monday, June 26, 2006

If anyone sees a policy, please let me know.

David Cameron was trying to spin his current interest in the Human Rights Act as a policy, but he's not eager to give any details of rights that might be removed or added. Funny that, but also typical of the cheap populism and shallow thinking that marks the new Tories in their desperation to look electable. If that means selling out your basic human rights, then that's a sacrifice he's prepared to make. I'm not sure why the French or Germans deserve greater protection for their rights than we do, but I'm sure Dave will let us all know.

On the Today programme, he discussed the issue whereby people cannot be deported, regardless of their danger to the UK, if to send them to their destination would put them at risk, although the legal case that established that went to the European Court of Human Rights back in 1996 - well before Labour brought the HRA in and thus unaffected by either the Act or this proposed change. Cameron has also cited the case of a prisoner demanding hard-core pornography under his rights to freedom of expression, although that case was thrown out - but why let the facts get in the way of a sound-bite, eh?

Cameron is trying to paint this as a European Union problem - that root of all evil in the minds of UKIP and most of the Tories - exploiting the lack of knowledge about European institutions. This is an entirely separate issue, as it relates to the Council of Europe, a grouping of some 46 states. As Cameron has said that he doesn't wish to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights, which governs all of this, the only effect of this revision would be to increase the number of cases referred to the European Court of Human Rights for judgement, rather than being decided in the UK courts as they are at present, under the HRA. He wants it to reflect British values - but it already does, as the original ECHR was heavily influenced by the British team that helped draft it (and Winston Churchill was the driving force behind the Council of Europe anyway).

Ravey Davey is also a fan of simplicity (look at his shadow cabinet for a grand collection of simple folk). Ahh, simplicity. Even the simplest terms can keep lawyers gainfully employed for centuries. Witness the first amendment to the US Constitution, the start of their own Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That paragraph continues to exercise lawyers today - does it cover the display of the Ten Commandments in federal buildings or not? Law isn't simple, no matter how hard we try to make it so, but I find it hard to find fault with the HRA. All it really does is require public bodies to behave in accordance with the ECHR, for the courts to apply laws laid down by parliament in terms of the convention and it allows redress for those whose rights have or might be affected by legislation or the acts of public bodies.

Of course, this isn't new. David Davis promised a review of the HRA back in 2004, before the last election and that formed part of a manifesto commitment. As Bob points out, SheWhoMustBeObeyed also promised a Bill of Rights prior to the 1979 election, something that was conveniently forgotten afterwards.

The HRA will lead to bad cases and dodgy decisions, as all law does, but replacing it for the sake of a few headlines will not improve things one iota and we're fools if we believe it. Human rights legislation only works if it is allowed to protect everybody - it isn't absolute, but breaches of basic rights have to be justified. For example, imprisoning somebody is a breach of their human rights, but not if due process of law has been followed. Surrendering those rights to please the baying tabloid media and leveraging a few extra votes is wrong.

1 comment:

A soft socialist said...

Dave is playing to get the Sun on board.