Book on human rights published
As we wait to see what the government brings forward to replace the Human Rights Act it seeks to repeal, a book was recently published which is recommended to all those who believe in human rights and – despite its faults – that the HRA is a major step forward in granting rights to its citizens. The book is called On Fantasy Island* by Conor Gearty who, amongst other things, is professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the Institute of Public Affairs at LSE. He has written several other books including the Struggle for Civil Liberties (2000)
The HRA has come under sustained attack in the media particularly but not exclusively at the tabloid end of the market with regular stories of criminals and terrorists escaping justice because of it. Positive aspects of the Act including use by the media themselves to protect sources, seldom get a hearing. A recent example from the Daily Mail gives a flavour of the type of reporting which is common at that end of the media market:
Folly of human rights luvvies: As actors fight plans to axe Human Rights Act, how thousands of foreign convicts use it to stay in Britain
Number of foreign offenders on UK’s streets has spiralled to a record high
Includes killers, rapists and paedophiles who have avoided deportation
Left-wing luvvies lining up to oppose plans to scrap the Human Rights Act
Benedict Cumberbatch and Vanessa Redgrave condemn Tory proposals
25 June [accessed 31 October 2016]
Conor Gearty methodically discussed the history of rights in the UK and tackles head on some of the absurdities regularly reported in papers like the Mail and the Sun. Myths abound and include the case of Abu Qatada; the murderer of Philip Lawrence outside the school and Denis Nilsen’s request to access pornography and write a book. In each case, the HRA is in the frame when it was either irrelevant or the event complained of was not going to happen anyway. Perhaps the most famous instance was the absurd statement by Theresa May at the Conservative Party conference in 2011 about a Bolivian student who could not be deported because of a cat. ‘I’m not making this up’ she said: problem was she did make it up and had grossly exaggerated a small part of the case.
The government – now led by Theresa May – is apparently preparing a British Bill of Rights. Gearty discusses this and says:
…attentions shifted to the Human Rights Act. Here we find uppermost the fantasies that drove the much of the first part of this book – you cannot change a law for the better if it has never been what it you have claimed it to be in the first place. (p189f)
He sets the context of hostility to the Act in terms of a deadly combination of the nostalgic and the negative. For a country which until the recent past, ruled a large part of the world and whose power and influence was supreme, we now have to form partnerships and accept that our writ no longer runs as it once did. Strasbourg is just one of the elements of this. Nostalgic because were we not the inventors of common law so who are these overseas people interfering in our law making? The role of the media is discussed and a fuller account of the media’s role in ‘monstering‘ the HRA is provided by Adam Wagner of RightsInfo.
Human rights offer a route to a society where all are equal before the law and where each of us has a chance to engage in political activity on a level playing field if we so wish.
Several years have gone by since the Conservatives announced their desire to abolish the act and we are still waiting to see what happens. The new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has reaffirmed that and of course Theresa May is now prime minister. We wait and see … Our Local MP, John Glen, is on record in the Salisbury Journal as someone who agrees with abolition so we wait and see when the time comes.
The book is highly recommended.
*Oxford University Press, 2016 – £18.99 RRP