It’s funny how phrases take on different meanings as time goes by. Not so many years ago a “do gooder” was a person who did their best to help others , it was someone who was generous and charitable. Anyone so unfortunate to attract that label now is a “soft touch” and to blame for all of society’s ills by sending teenage rapists on all-inclusive holidays to the Caribbean or allowing prisoners to have 60 inch plasma TVs in their cells.
Similarly, “human rights legislation”, once seen as vital in upholding the fundamental values we all hold dear, is now held responsible for helping sinister hook handed muslims to escape justice and handing undeserving asylum seekers state benefits.
At their conference last week the Conservatives had little to say about human rights but rather a lot to say about human rights legislation, particularly the Human Rights Act( sorry, my mistake, Labour’s Human Rights Act as they’ve renamed it despite the fact it was passed with all party support). It’s safe to say that they’re not all that keen on it.
They plan to abolish the Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. This, David Cameron claims, will uphold human rights in a “common sense”way by not applying such rights in “trivial” cases. Your first reaction to this is probably “Why should I take lessons in common sense from a bloke who left his eight year old daughter in a pub?”
Your second reaction is probably “what is “trivial” and who decides whether a breach is “trivial” or not?” For example, if you decide to download the track “Isis” by Bob Dylan and an hour later you get arrested at gunpoint by an anti-terror police hit squad and thrown in a cell without charge for a day or two, is that trivial? Not in my eyes, but in the midst of a so called “Global War on Terror” I’m sure Teresa May would argue it was.
The Conservatives really want to restrict “bad human rights” that apply to” bad people” which help “greedy lawyers” to make a killing. They don’t want terror suspects to have the benefit of human rights or immigrants or prisoners.
They seem particularly bothered about prisoners getting the vote, to the extent that David Cameron said he was “physically sick” at the prospect. In a world where innocent UK Citizens are being beheaded by religious fanatics and where the global threat of Ebola looms large, a prime minister who is “physically sick” at the thought of a prisoner voting is probably in the wrong job. He may, of course, have in mind the fact that most criminally minded Tories aren’t in prison but working in key positions in banks and the City so they are unlikely to gain many votes.
Actually, the right of prisoners to vote or the delay in deporting Abu Hamza has nothing at all to do with the Human Rights Act. It has everything to do with the fact we are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights. That’s a treaty and, because it’s a treaty, International Law applies which means the Convention binds our parliament and courts.
If the Human Rights Act was repealed then those” bad people” wanting to enforce their rights would do what they did before the Act came into being and apply directly to Strasbourg under the Convention. And by the way, if you think that having to litigate in Europe, rather than the UK, is going to reduce the money made by human rights lawyers then you might be interested in this bag of magic beans that I’m looking to sell.
The European Convention on Human Rights was signed in 1950 as a response to the horrors of World War II and the shadow cast by Nazism. It was a bold attempt to make sure the horrors of the 1940s could not be repeated. It is, in fact, a brilliant statement of the principles that should underpin any democratic nation. Every student should have it pinned to their bedroom wall next to the poster of that tennis player with no knickers scratching her bottom.
Virtually every country in Europe, even Putin’s Russia, are part of it. Yet in his zeal to be seen to be tough on Muslim preachers, immigrants, and prisoners , Minister for Justice Chris Grayling has threatened that the UK will withdraw from the Convention unless he gets the right to veto any rulings from Strasbourg he doesn’t like.
The threat to withdraw from the Convention is the most appalling things I’ve ever heard from a UK politician. That’s quite an achievement.
The only sizeable European country that aren’t part of it are Belarus – a nation with an appalling record on human rights and democratic reform, aptly labelled “Europe’s Last Dictatorship”. To ally ourselves with such a country by withdrawing from the Treaty should be unthinkable to a civilised nation who were instrumental in thwarting evil dictatorships and maintaining peace in Europe following the bloodshed of both world wars.
The reality is that we won’t withdraw, it would be a constitutional nightmare for one, almost certainly involving dismissal from the EU. Rather, it’s a pathetic threat made by a desperate party trying to appease both its own lunatic, Europhobic fringe and attract the kind of closet racists with very small willies who are voting for UKIP and the odious Nigel Farage.
Bluff or not, the mere fact that we are threatening to withdraw from a convention, that has been at the heart of maintaining relative peace in Europe for 64 years, solely for the purpose of political posturing is irresponsible and utterly contemptible.
The Human Rights Act doesn’t need abolishing. It sets out absolute rights such as the right not be be enslaved or tortured and the right to a fair trial all of which are entirely uncontroversial. That’s unless you’re a megalomaniac with a screw loose or someone prepared to put short term political gain ahead of basic decency and standards.
A British Bill of Rights? If it’s the rights that UKIP and the right wing of the Conservative Party hold dear- no thanks.