In his speech to the Tory party conference today, the prime minister David Cameron pledged to get rid of the Human Rights Act #HRA and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Problem? Where is it? A bit like Lewis Carroll’s snark, it is often spoken of but never actually seen. It has been talked about off and on for around 7 years now but it still hasn’t seen the light of day.
Second problem: how will it be any different to the HRA it will replace? It will presumably contain many of the clauses about fair trials, no torture, knowing what one is accused of, no slavery, arbitrary arrest etc. etc. that are contained in the HRA.
It is likely that the ire is directed at some individual cases which get the tabloid press in a stew such as Abu Qatada. The issue here of course was that he could not be deported because it was likely that either, he would be tortured or, evidence gained by torture would be used against him.
The problem is the same as it always has been with the act. It is European and in the fevered atmosphere of anti-Europeanism stoked up by Ukip, anything from Europe is a bad thing. The second problem is the media – or sections of it – who dislike the act and print all manner of misinformation and disinformation about its rulings. They don’t like it because the question of privacy has a higher standing under the act than they would like. As we have seen with News International – and are beginning to see with the Mirror Group newspapers – newspapers are sold by penetrating the private lives of the famous by a variety of dubious and illegal means.
The benefits of the act, such as that reported today of people in Essex who were able to use it to take action against the police, are seldom reported.
Unless we pull out of the Council of Europe, we will still be subject to the rulings of the European Court. It is strange to report that with all the venom and anger directed against Strasbourg nearly 99% of cases applications against the UK are struck out. That is because we have good legal systems here. The HRA was brought in to stop the trail of people having to go to Europe to get justice.
A very sound analysis of the absurdity of this pledge.
I think it’s important to point out that although John Glen originally said in his View from the Commons that he looked forward to a next Conservative government abolishing the HRA, he actually shifted his position at the meeting with Salisbury Amnesty International to one where he said he would be open to the possibility of reforming the HRA. The reason for this was, principally, not because he accepted the importance of the act to his constituents, since he already accepts the importance of human rights, but because his ignorance of the exact status of the HRA in the British constitution – and the fact that it is known as the Parliamentary Model – made it difficult for him to explain in what way a Bill of Rights would be an improvement.
He also agreed to be more balanced in any future pronouncements after he effectively accepted that he had cherry-picked his evidence as part of his argument leading to the conclusion that the HRA should be abolished, and in doing so – although he did not express it in these terms – also accepted that his argument was invalid.
I think it’s important that we establish exactly why he shifted his position in these respects in case he does make further comment in the light of Cameron’s speech and especially in the run-up to the election.
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