It was interesting reading the Daily Express and Daily Mail yesterday (yes, I am a middle-aged conservative who, all the same, believes in the twin threats of Climate Change and Peak Oil. I call it ‘realism’!) Apparently, David Cameron is now claiming that he is going to take on the Political Elite and deal with the problem that is the Human Rights Act. Hmmm, funny? I didn’t think he’d be in a position to given that he’s in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats who have stated that they quite like the previous Labour government’s most troublesome piece of legislation. The Tories put the abolition of the HRA and its replacement with a British Bill of Rights into their pre-election manifesto. Naturally, they had to kick it into the long grass after they realised they needed the Lib Dems to from a viable government.
Guess what? After those ‘inspiring’ words from Cameron, deputy PM Nick Clegg comes out to say that he opposes the abolition of the HRA on the basis that it has done a lot of good. For instance, its prevented nosey council officials looking in your rubbish bins, and it’s also saved a lot of cases going to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg because our own domestic legal system can now deal with claims of HR breaches without the lengthy and costly delays that were incurred previously. (Not that the tax payer gets any more value for money with the huge legal aid budget!) So, not much chance of Cameron really getting to grips with this issue then, especially when the two people allegedly heading the commission looking into the review of the HRA are going to be none other than Mr Clegg himself and Liberal Tory Euro-enthusiast Ken Clarke! Oh dear! I detect the sweet and insincere smell of fudge in the air!
I must admit, I’ve believed for a long time that we have lacked a proper piece of legislation that protects Human Rights in this country. This is why we were dragged before the ECHR so many times before in the past. In fact, this was a little shameful given the fact that we’d helped to frame the European Convention in the first place after WWII. However, other countries have got round this problem by creating their own Bill Of Rights. What on earth is wrong with a British Bill of Rights, for goodness sake? Surely, this would have been just as effective in keeping our bins safe from Local Authority ‘Covert Special Operations’ as much as the flawed HRA, if not more so. And given that the ECHR is European wide and therefore centralised (its a separate organisation from the benighted EU but still heavily linked), relying on that system to ‘protect’ our rights is a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut! Frankly, it was typical of the blunderbuss approach of the previous Labour government to enact a piece of legislation incorporating this into domestic law. But, then again, they were – like Clegg – largely Euro-enthusiatic themselves.
The problem with the ECHR is that is now a little out of date, hence the reason why the Government is stating that it will press for some reforms of the system (good luck!) The original (laudable) reasons for its creation was to stop the likes of the Nazis murdering innocent people in the name of warped ideologies. There is no doubt, however, that it has been frequently misapplied and has undermined the rule of law in some cases. Furthermore, there is lot about rights but nothing about setting out how those rights are qualified by responsibilities. This, for me, goes to the very core of the Social Contract (see my previous post on Thomas Hobbes.)
The Contract is based on the idea that the private citizen trades the enjoyment of certain rights in return for the protection of the state. The citizen is entitled to retain a number of core rights, such as the right to liberty and freedom of expression, as long as the citizen observes their own responsibilities in relation to the state and society as a whole. If the citizen abrogates those responsibilities, then they should expect to have some of those core rights taken away from them, such as their liberty. This is, in effect, what has happened to many of the recent perpetrators of the riots who have received unusually tough sentences, mainly involving prison. (Of course, this has now brought out the army of career Human Rights lawyers who are now aiming to get them off because the sentence was too harsh.)
So, what is needed to reinforce the Contract and allow Leviathan to flex its muscles when it needs to? The answer, in my mind, is not just a Bill of Rights but a Bill of Responsibilities that could support the state’s right to enforce the law when an individual is in violation of it. Quite simply, this could work on the basis that any person being tried who complains that their rights have been violated could then be judged according to their own adherence to the responsibilities laid out as part of the Contract. For example, a foreign national turned naturalised citizen convicted of inciting terrorism and who argues that deportation is a violation of his human rights could then be judged on the basis of how he has recognised his obligations under the Bill of Responsibilities. In this respect, he might find his case somewhat undermined in evidential terms if proved that he was actively encouraging acts of terror – a clear breach of the Contract.
Would this ever be considered? I doubt it because we seem to lack political leaders who have the depth of vision to get a grip on these sort of issues. As much as I like Mr Cameron, he does appear to be very weak and I severely doubt he really has what it takes to challenge the ‘chattering-class’ elite. I might be proved wrong. But if he fails to do so, then I believe more and more people are going to be frustrated. And the end-game could well be an undermining of the rule of law. (And to see what that could be like in Britain, check out my novel…)
What Politician will save us?
Until the next time…