Monday, 3 October 2011

European Humans Rights Act in question

"I’d personally like to see the Human Rights Act go because I think we have had some problems with it,"

says Theresa May. (the Home Secretary) On its own this seems absolutely crazy. It sounds even crazier when the justification is given:

I’d personally like to see the Human Rights Act go because I think we have had some problems with it

So because the government has had some problems with the Human Rights Act, this is a reason to to 'let it go'! This is the worst justification for abolishing guarantees of human rights I've ever heard. Of course, it isn't quite as crazy as it sounds because David Cameron does at least propose to "replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights". The primary problem they seem to have with it is that it protects some foreign criminals from being deported. This usually comes under section 8 of the Act:

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

They are concerned because some criminals have used this act to avoid being deported because it interferes with their right to have a family life. Of course, the second section says "except such as is in accordance with the law...for the prevention of disorder etc.". This is like the Americans who have a right to 'life, liberty and happiness' which can be undermined by the due process of law (imprisonment, for example, denies a person's right to liberty). Therefore the problem isn't with the European Human Rights Act, but in the way it has been interpreted/put into practice. The solution to the problem is in clearer guidelines for the Justice system acting within the Act.

Even more shocking is that some of the arguments for doing away with the Act are because it means people behave in fear of being in breach of it. As David Cameron says:

The Human Rights Act doesn't say that's what you have to do. It's the sort of chilling effect of people thinking 'I will be found guilty under it'

The example given of this fear is of a prisoner being driven 100miles on a roundtrip rather than walking a short distance to court. This seems to have been done because the company doing the prisoner transport was contractually obliged not to walk prisoners down the road in handcuffs. This is presumably to avoid getting mobbed by the press, or other members of the public. I'm not sure if this was out of concern of falling foul of the Act or if it was just common decency to not frogmarch people up the road in cuffs. Either a person has the right to avoid this or they don't, and once this has been established the relevant parties (the contractors in this case) can act appropriately.

In the US, teachers are not allowed to hold prayers but pupils are free to pray. Sometimes a principal might be overzealous or acting out of fear of the establishement clause and forbid a pupil from praying or expressing their religious views. The solution is not to abandon the Constitution, but to educate the relevant parties in the proper way to act.

Furthermore - if you are planning to replace it with a Bill of Rights, there will be the same fear of being in breach of that which will lead to the same strange circumstances that Cameron is complaining about now...his position seems entirely self-defeating.

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