Posts Tagged ‘conservatives’


Devizes MP Danny Kruger has written a chapter in a book by the Common Sense group

In recent years some members of the Conservative party seem to have a problem with the Human Rights Act and some would like to see it abolished.  Far right newspapers typify the act as being a means by which terrorists, murderers and others escape justice because the act provides lawyers with a range of loopholes to get their clients off. They call it a ‘criminal’s charter’.  Many of the stories, on closer examination, turn out not to be true or wanton exaggerations. 

The current corpus of human rights law started life after the Second World War and there were a number of Conservative politicians who were active proponents, including Sir Winston Churchill and David Maxwell-Fyfe. 

Since 2015, the tone has changed and in the manifesto of that year, David Cameron promised to scrap the act.  Little happened and by the time of the 2019 manifesto, ‘scrap’ had gone and a review was promised.  What is to be reviewed and how a new act would look and what it would contain has never been clear.  At the time, the Salisbury group raised the matter with our MP Mr John Glen, but we were not much clearer what they wanted it replaced by. The review of the act is currently underway.

A new book has just been produced by a group of backbench Conservatives called Common Sense: Conservative Thinking For a Post-Liberal Age. In it, is a chapter written by the Devizes* MP Danny Kruger entitled Restoring rights: Reclaiming Liberty

His chapter contains odd reasoning and some curious logic.  His first claim is that the European Convention on Human Rights, drafted by British Lawyers after World War II [lawyers from other countries were involved so it is incorrect to say ‘British lawyers’] ‘sits uncomfortably with the English tradition of preventing tyranny’.  This will come as something of a surprise to the millions of people who were enslaved and were worked to death in the sugar plantations or those who worked in fearful conditions in nineteenth century factories.  The acquisition of Empire also has many horror stories. Quite where this ‘prevention of tyranny’ was taking place is not made clear.

Human rights are misnamed he claims. ‘The rights we really need, and the only ones we really have, derive from something higher and something lower than mankind.  They derive from the idea of God, and from the fact of nations: from a Christian conception of law …’  It would be difficult to locate in the Bible many of the principles enshrined in the ECHR or HRA if only because these ideas and principles were a long way from a society colonised by the Romans and where practices like slavery were common.  There are many favourable references to slavery in the Bible for example.  The ‘lower than mankind’ element is not explained.

He quotes approvingly of the American author Patrick Deneen who wrote Why Liberalism Failed (2018).  Many do not agree with Kruger’s admiration of Deneen’s book regarding his blame of a huge range of society’s ills on excessive liberalism to be odd not to say ridiculous.

His analysis seems to go seriously awry however with the following passage:

“And so, from an early stage we came to think of rights as the means by which we are set free from external pressure, set free from obligations to others; and from there it is a small step to the hypocritical assumption that rights confer obligations on others to satisfy us.” P49

It is incorrect to say that requiring the state to act in a lawful and reasonable way towards its subjects is in anyway hypocritical.  What is hypocritical about requiring the State not to torture us? What is hypocritical about having a fair trial?  Nor is it true to argue that rights set us free from external pressure.  This seems to go to the heart of the objections raised by some Conservatives about the HRA, and the attempts to weave in duties.  The argument seems to be you only deserve these rights in limited circumstances and in a conditional way. 

This argument is further developed in this passage:

“This conception of rights must be rooted in the existence of a community – a real community, not the abstraction of ‘humankind’.  A real community entails reciprocal duties, situated in institutions that can enforce them and mediated by the conventions of people who know each other and share a common culture.  This is the nation.  We derive our rights from our citizenship (or more properly, our subjectship)”. p52 (our italics)

The problem all along with the objections to the HRA is trying to tie them down to specifics.  In an earlier Conservative document Protecting Human Rights in the UK, the examples seem to be stuck on deporting foreign criminals as an example of obligations. 

The Human Rights Act, brought in following cross party consensus – and falsely characterised as ‘Labour’s Human Rights Act’ – represented a significant shift in power.  Ever since the Norman conquest, power rested with the elites: the king, the barons and gradually the landowners and aristocracy.  Concessions were drawn from them as a result of unrest, riots or events such as the Peterloo massacre.  Magna Carta sought to restore some of the rights enjoyed during Saxon times.  The ‘Glorious Revolution’ brought further changes.  The Great Reform Act some more.

We were subjects not citizens.  The HRA changed that and gave citizens a range of fundamental rights (some of which are conditional).  It would appear that for a small number of Conservative backbenchers in the Common Sense group this is troubling.  Yet Mr Kruger’s chapter never gives solid reasons for change, only rather nebulous arguments which crumble away on close reading. 

*Devizes is a small town 25 miles north of Salisbury.


A recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission highlights a lack of UK government progress on human rights:  It concludes that no progress has been made in the category of ‘political and civic participation, including political representation’ and its ‘equality and human rights legal framework’. This is due in part to the New Immigration Act, Police Crime Bill and the reviews of the Human Rights Act and the legal process of Judicial Review.  

The report also covers the topics of ‘educational attainment’, ‘hate crime and hate speech’, ‘human trafficking and modern slavery’ and ‘mental health’. It concludes that: “Women, ethnic minorities and disabled people remain under-represented in politics and diversity data is inadequate. Candidates sharing certain protected characteristics are disproportionately subject to abuse and intimidation, and long-term funding is needed to ensure disabled people’s equal participation.” 

The EHRC considers that there has been a severe regression of human rights with The Coronavirus Act and the removal of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights from domestic law after Brexit. 

The United Kingdom is signed up to seven UN human rights treaties. The EHRC’s report clearly demonstrates the UK government’s lack commitment to ensure its citizens’ rights are properly protected.  The EHRC’s full report: Check on UK Government progress | Human Rights Tracker


Supreme Court victory enables pension funds to divest from companies involved in the illegal occupation by Israel

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign won an important victory in the Supreme Court last week when it was ruled that pension funds such as the Local Government Pension Scheme, can divest from companies which are complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine lands.  It is seen as a major victory for the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement which is fiercely opposed by the prime minister Boris Johnson and the Conservative government.

The ruling will also enable divestment from the arms industry which is a major exporter to the region and whose products cause such mayhem in countries like Yemen.  In a previous post we discussed the activities of TripAdvisor and their role in the occupied lands.

Attendees at the Sarum Campaign for Israel Palestine SCIP, will have watched several films of what life is like in Palestine which is almost a prison.  We have seen footage of the hours spent at checkpoints, uprooting of olive groves and of course the enormous wall which carves the country in two.

Sources: CAAT; Middle East Eye

 

 


The appointment of Suella Braverman as Attorney General raises further fears for our human rights

The Attorney General is an important legal post in the UK and is responsible for advising the Crown and the Government on legal aspects affecting their decisions.  They are not usually present in Cabinet meetings to preserve a degree of independence although the previous incumbent, Geoffrey Cox, did so because there were frequent matters to do with Brexit to discuss.  The appointment matters therefore and their views and opinions on issues such as human rights are important.

The new person in the role is Suella Braverman and she has strong legal credentials having been a barrister for seven years.  Her views on human rights are worrying however and are worth examinining.  In an article in the Daily Telegraph entitled: Britain is so obsessed with human rights it has forgotten about human duties (16 December, 2015) she sets out her thinking.

  • the mission (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) has failed.  She instances the lack of equality for women in the Islamic world, political authoritarians in Turkey, Hungary and Venezuela
  • the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay means the United States has lost credibility on civil liberties
  • the plight of millions of people belies the noble ambitions of the Universal Declaration.

She goes on to explain that the one reason for this is that Universal Declaration was never a treaty in the formal sense and never became international law.  Another reason is that the rights are ‘described in imprecise, aspirational terms which allow governments to interpret them in any way they see fit’.

And there are:

hundreds of international human rights – rights to work and education, to freedom of expression and religious worship, to non-discrimination, to privacy, to pretty much anything you might think important in a perfect world.  The sheer volume and array of rights imply an all-embracing protection.  This is impossible, because there will always be trade-offs in which some rights are sacrificed to uphold others.

She marries this with an approving comment about Prof. Eric Posner of Chicago who has written a book called Twilight of Human Rights in which he dismisses the value of these rights.  It is clear that Suella Braverman has taken his ideas on board since they crop up frequently in her writings and posts.  For example, the comment above about the sheer volume of rights is a Posner point as is the fact it was never a treaty.  But the significant and chilling example is the issue of torture.

Torture

Posner explains that a poor country has a choice or trade off.  So if the police are torturing its citizens to obtain confessions, then the state can decide to spend its entire budget in eliminating this practice by retraining and monitoring the police’s behaviour.  Then it would have insufficient funds to improve the medical care of its people.

Braverman puts it thus in an echo of Posner’s argument:

In Brazil, there have been several cases of the use of torture by the police in the name of crime prevention.  They justify this by putting a general right to live free from crime and intimidation above their rights and those who are tortured.  To wipe out torture, the government would need to create a robust, well-paid policing and judicial services to guarantee the same results.  The government might argue that this money is better spent on new schools and medical clinics, protecting wider rights to freedom of education and health.  These sorts of value judgements, inherent in the practical application of human rights (whether we agree with them or not), undermine their universality.

We should be horrified that someone who has been appointed to become our new Attorney General, one of the high legal offices of the land, promotes the view that there is some kind of trade-off as far as the use of torture is concerned.  She has clearly swallowed Prof Posner’s arguments without pausing for one moment to think of the moral issues or the fact that torture is neither efficient nor effective in getting to the truth.

The practice was abolished in Britain in the long parliament of 1640.  Yet here we have a barrister, a member of parliament and now a senior law officer, responsible for advising the government and cabinet, that, under some curious reasoning, it might be justifiable because the money might ‘better spent elsewhere’ rather than eliminating it.

Her other main complaint is about the judges.  She was a keen proponent of Brexit and in Conservative Home she says:

Restoring sovereignty to Parliament after Brexit is one of the greatest prizes that awaits us.  But not just from the EU.  As we start this new chapter of our democratic story, our Parliament must retrieve power ceded to another place – the courts.  For too long, the Diceyan notion of parliamentary supremacy has come under threat.  The political has been captured by the legal.  Decisions of an executive, legislative and democratic nature have been assumed by our courts.  Prorogation and the triggering of Article 50 were merely the latest examples of a chronic and steady encroachment by the judges.  Conservative Home 27 January 2020  [Dicey was a Whig jurist and wrote an important book on the British constitution]

Clearly, she and others in government are still smarting from the decision of the Supreme Court not to allow Boris Johnson to prorogue parliament.  In August, Prime Minister advised the Queen to prorogue Parliament from the end of 9 September until 14 October.  The Supreme Court subsequently ruled that this advice, (and the prorogation that followed), was unlawful and of no effect because it had the ‘effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the power of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions’.  Gina Miller has also left her mark.

A review of her comments and articles paints a worrying picture of someone who does not truly value human rights. They Work for You concludes that she consistently voted against laws to promote equality and human rights.  She voted against largely retaining the EU Charter on Fundamental Human Rights for example and for more restrictive regulation of Trade Union activity.

UPDATE:

This blog was written before Nick Cohen wrote about Braverman in the Observer.  It seems her career and claims of experience have been markedly exaggerated.  

 


Worry about dilution of human rights in the UK.

Increasing concern is being expressed about the future of human rights in the UK and it is one of the issues the Salisbury group are keeping a watching brief over. This is an extract from ‘Each Other’ – the new name for Rights Info:

The government has pledged to “update” the Human Rights Act as well as judicial review – the means by which courts can assess the lawfulness of decisions made by public authorities. 

The proposed changes to the Act and judicial review will be recommended by a “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission” (CDRC) which the government said it will set up this year. 

While the CDRC’s changes will not be looked at until “after Brexit” – it will be important to pay close attention to, among other things, who is appointed to the commission, what their records on human rights issues are and how they arrive at their recommendations.  Aaron, New Editor 

There are many in government who dislike the act and there have been several statements and manifesto promises to abolish it and replace it with something else, what is not known.  Brexit consumed so much time that there was none left to do things like this.  The right wing press has kept up a fairly relentless campaign which influences government thinking. 

Our own MP, Mr John Glen is recorded as ‘generally voted against human rights’ by the Hansard ‘They Work for You web site so is likely to support any damaging changes. 

Read the full piece in Each Other

 

 


Happy New Year to our followers and supporters. This is likely to be an interesting year on the human rights front and we shall be keeping an eye on the new Conservative government’s wish to repeal or do something with the Human Rights Act which they dislike so. We do not know what is proposed – indeed it has been under threat for some years now but details of what is proposed are scarce – but with a large majority, they will be able to do more or less as they will.


December 16th is the 50th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in the UK

At 8am on 13 August 1964, the last execution took place in the United Kingdom.  Two men: Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen were separately executed in Manchester and Liverpool.  The death penalty for murder was abolished in the following year 1965 and made permanent on 16 December 1969.  Northern Ireland followed in 1973 and the last hanging offence – treason – was abolished in 1998.  In the current climate however, the question has to be asked, how secure is this decision and will it last another 50 years without being repealed?

Many will remember some of the impassioned debates which took place at the time with concerns it would lead to a rise in the murder rate.  Indeed, the vicar of All Saints, Clapton in London, said at the time it would be a ‘wholesale license to kill’.  The police wanted to be armed if the bill was passed.  Despite its abolition, the homicide rate in the UK has remained reasonable static over many years.  The figures for the last 3 years for example are 721 (2016/17); 728 (2017/18) and 701 (2018/19).  (Source: Statistica).  

Amnesty is opposed the use of the death penalty for six reasons:

  1.  It is the ultimate denial of human rights and is contrary to the articles 3 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the right to life and the right not to be tortured or subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.
  2.  It is irreversible.  Mistakes are made and cannot be rectified.
  3.  It does not deter.  This perhaps is the strongest case made for its continued use yet many studies show it simply is not true.  Violent crime rates are not significantly worse in US states which use the penalty compared to those who do not.
  4.  It is often used with unfair justice systems.  Confessions sometimes forcibly extracted are a feature.  Clive Stafford Smith’s book on a particular case in Florida is instructive.
  5.  It is often used in a discriminatory way and you are more likely to be executed if you are a member of a minority group or if you suffer from mental health problems.  It is also racially biased.
  6.  It is used as a political tool to execute people who are seen as a threat to the authorities.

World wide

There has been a decrease in the number of countries using the death penalty according the 2018 Amnesty Report on the subject.  690 people were executed in 2018 in 20 countries representing a 31% decrease on the previous year.  However, these statistics exclude China – the world’s largest executioner – but where the number of executions, which is known to be vast, is a state secret.  Belarus is the only country in Europe still to have the penalty and executed at least 4 people in 2018.

The five biggest countries which still execute its citizens are: China; Iran; Saudi Arabia; Viet Nam and Iraq.  78% of all executions take place in the last four countries in this list (with the caveat that the China figure is unknown).  It is possible China executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world put together.

The Salisbury group monitors cases around the world and produces a monthly report.

United Kingdom

There has been a noticeable increase in rhetoric around harsher prison sentences and a desire to lock more people up for longer.  The current UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel has made a number of speeches and wants to see longer sentences, more prisoners kept in prisons for longer and generally supports a tougher approach to criminal justice.  She has seemed to support the death penalty although she denies that this is so.  Nevertheless, she is a powerful and insistent supporter of tougher sentencing.

A Parliamentary Enquiry has warned that UK citizens are at risk of the death penalty in the US – or of being sent to Guantanamo Bay – under a fast-track data sharing deal signed by the Home Secretary, as the result of an agreement reached with Washington last month, when the details were kept secret. It is said that the deal will give police and intelligence agencies speedy access to electronic communications sent by terrorists, serious crime gangs and white-collar criminals.   The House of Lords Committee has criticised the ‘asymmetric’ nature of the arrangement, which gives the US far greater powers to target UK citizens than vice-versa, and claims have been made that the UK will not be able to obtain ‘credible assurances’ that extradited suspects will not face execution. (Source: The Independent.)

Among the public YouGov polls reveal a mixed desire for restoring the penalty which depends a lot on what type of murder is involved.  So for multiple murders for example, 57% are in favour and 33% against.  Murder of a child shows 53% for and 31% against.  The ‘all cases of murder’ figure is 45% against and 34% for.

For crime generally in the words of YouGov ‘Voters are united: criminals should be more harshly punished.’  In the general population, 70% believe that sentences are not harsh enough which rises to 87% for Conservative supporters.  Further analysis for gender, age, location and social grade reveals only small differences.  The major difference is between Remain and Leave voters in the Referendum to leave the European Union (Brexit).  The statistic for all cases of murder shows that 64% of Remain supporters oppose the death penalty in contrast to 30% of Leave supporters – around double.  The support figures are even more marked with 51% of Leave supporters in favour of the death penalty and only 19% of Remainers.

It seems therefore that in the UK population, vengeful policies for dealing with criminality and for reintroducing the death penalty for some types of murder are still quite strong.  A conservative MP and former minister, John Hayes, asked the government last year to reintroduce the penalty.

Government policy has long been that we will not grant extradition to foreign countries if there is a risk of the individual being executed.  This policy appeared to be weakened last year by the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid:

Sajid Javid, […] has caused controversy in September by indicating that the British government is prepared to waive its long-standing opposition to the use of capital punishment by foreign governments, in the case of two alleged jihadi terrorists originally from Britain.   He has agreed to provide the authorities in the United States with intelligence evidence to assist in the trials of the two men without asking for the usual assurances that any convictions would not lead to the death penalty being imposed.  Human rights champions have widely condemned this decision as compromising Britain’s principled opposition to capital punishment and as setting a dangerous precedent.  Others, however, claim the two men involved deserve whatever they get.  So was the Home Secretary’s decision right or wrong?  YouGov 24 July 2018

Taken together, with members of the public wanting the return of the death penalty for several types of murder and an increase in harsher sentences; a weakening in the policy of not supporting the extradition to countries which execute people, and a desire to abolish the Human Rights Act, the reintroduction of the death penalty – although unlikely – may not be impossible in this country.  With the Conservative government returned last week with an increased majority, things are by no means certain. That it survives as a wish in many people’s minds is a worrying fact.

Sources: YouGov; Statistica; The Independent; Guardian, Parliament.co.uk, Amnesty International


We always welcome new members and the best thing is to keep an eye on this site or on Facebook – Salisburyai – and make yourself known at an event we are organising.


The Salisbury Amnesty group is politically neutral.  We have an interest in the Human rights Act passed with all party consensus in 1998.  The Conservative Party’s manifesto for the 2019 general election says:

Once we get Brexit done, Britain will take back control of its laws.  As we end the supremacy of European law, we will be free to craft legislation and regulations that maintain high standards but which work best for the UKWe want a balance of rights, rules and entitlements that benefits all the people and all the parts of our United Kingdom.

After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people.  The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical.  We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government. We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.  In our first year we will set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth, and come up with proposals to restore trust in our institutions and in how our democracy operates.  Page 48 in the section: Protect our Democracy (our italics)

We can find no similar pledge in the other two main party’s manifesto.  To some extent this is a familiar promise.  In the past, the party has promised to repeal the act and to introduce a bill on rights and responsibilities.  Probably because of the pressure on parliamentary time with Brexit, such a bill has never emerged.  Promises to abolish the act also have never emerged.  We have asked what part of the act they want to abolish but this has never been answered.  The Party does seem to have a problem with the act as it is currently drafted.

The words themselves tell you little and may even seem on the face of it, benign.  What does ‘update the act’ mean?  Seeking a balance between the rights of individuals and our vital national security and effective government is a bit of a clue.  A regular theme of the right wing press is the threat posed by the act to our national security.  This for example from the Daily Mail in 2015:

Another day, another insult to common sense courtesy of the Human Rights Act and the lawyers enriched by this toxic piece of legislation, which allows them so profitably to ride roughshod over the wishes of Parliament and the British public.   Editorial, 1 August 2015

We shall be keeping a watching brief on Conservative party plans if they assume power on 13 December 2019.

Visitors to this site may like to visit Rights Info where this manifesto promise is also discussed.

 


Government minister gives equivocal answer

The threat by the current Conservative government to do away with the Human Rights Act (HRA) has lain dormant for some time due to the considerable time being devoted to the Brexit negotiations.  However, it reared its head again this week when a House of Lords EU Justice subcommittee asked a government minister for reassurance that it (the government) will not repeal or replace the act.

The Parliament Website has the following piece:

The House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee wrote to Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke in December regarding the rights of citizens post-Brexit.  The Committee sought an explanation for the dilution of the Government’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Last week the Committee received a troubling response.  While again pledging an unchanging commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, the letter from Edward Argar MP, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, ended with reference to the Government’s intention to revisit the Human Rights Act once the process of leaving the EU is concluded18 January 2019 [accessed 22 January 2019 our italics]

This is very troubling.  The hostility of many ministers and politicians to the HRA is well known and echoes the frequent stories and campaigns in the tabloid press.  It is seen by some as a threat to our way or life and to giving terrorists and criminals a ‘get out of jail card’.

On the contrary, it is in our view, one of the most important pieces of legislation in the last 20 years.  It has shifted power away from the state and given ordinary people a means to challenge faulty decisions.  The Hillsborough enquiry is a recent example and would not have happened without it.  As an Amnesty spokesperson put it:

The Human Rights Act has been central to the vital pursuit of justice in this country for the last 20 years.  It is the unsung hero of UK life, holding powerful people and institutions to account when ordinary people are let down.  It is deeply concerning that the Government refuses to acknowledge that reality.

The Human Rights Act is a critical safety net for everyone in our society.  Any attempt to dilute or remove the essential protections the Human Rights Act provides should be categorically ruled out.

They are mounting a petition which you can take part in if you wish.

If the act is abolished, all that will happen is that we go back to the bad old days of people having to beat a path to Strasbourg to get justice.

Sources:  Amnesty, Rights Info, Parliament Website


If you live in the Salisbury or South Wilts area and would like to join us, you would be very welcome.  Keep and eye on this site or on Facebook @salisburyai for one of our events and come along and make yourself known.

 


Letter published in the Salisbury Journal

A letter in support of the Human Rights Act was published in the Salisbury Journal today – 8 November 2018.  We have often discussed the threat to the act in this blog as it remains Conservative policy to abolish it.  There is little chance of this happening in view of the enormous amount of time and energy being expended on Brexit negotiations, nevertheless, the intention is there.  We do not know what will happen after March 31st of course. 

We have a meeting tonight, 8 November at 7:30, Attwood Road.