The serious lesson hiding behind the Express’s latest rights “outrage”

BMgRvWRCYAEZ-DO.jpg-large12 June 2013 may go down in legal history. For it was the first time a national newspaper’s main headline was about the launch of a legal textbook. In a paradoxical explosion of free publicity for said book, the Daily Express reported that a new online guide to European asylum and immigration has caused “outrage” for helping “migrants claim British benefits”.

As you might expect, the article is as full of arrant nonsense as the new guide – which can be downloaded for free here – is full of useful information. Nonsense like this:

In a list of examples of past cases, it even cites Islamist cleric Abu Qatada’s successful ­challenge under human rights laws against Home Office attempts to send him back to ­Jordan to face terror charges

Obviously, any book about “asylum, borders and immigration” law which failed to mention the Abu Qatada case, one of the most important deportation decisions of the past decade would be not worth the PDF it was encoded in.

The reported “outrage” is that of a representative from Get Britain Out, an organisation I have never heard of (perhaps readers have?), the Express’s editor and, of course, Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader.

As tempting as it is to reproduce some more silly quotes (ok, one more: “One passage points out that: “The ESC grants a right to housing, which acts as a gateway to a series of additional rights.”” NOOO!), that isn’t really the point of bringing this slow-news-day silliness to your attention. There is a serious point here to0.

It is about courts and organisations producing free legal information. The Council of Europe, which runs the European Court of Human Rights and was partly responsible for this book along with the European Court of Human Rights and European Agency for Fundamental Rights, does a brilliant job of it. Just look at what is available here. And here. The information is almost all up to date, which as anyone who runs or uses a legal information service knows, is very impressive.

No UK court comes close . Our Supreme Court does a good job of summarising judgments and has led the way in the use of social media. But our other courts are woeful – the Court of Appeal doesn’t even have a proper independent website. And as fun as it is to watch Supreme Court hearings live on Sky, it is a great shame that those same hearings cannot be accessed afterwards, as equivalent videos can be on the European Court of Human Rights website.

Of course budgets are tight. But it would take a relatively small amount of money to make huge improvements. The US Supreme Court produces free transcripts and audio recordings of its hearings. Our courts produce no record of any hearings. No court documents are released online. No transcripts are available without paying. No recordings at all, audio or video.

There is a reason why reactionary newspapers like The Express are so upset by the prospect free online legal information. People knowing about their rights and the law surrounding them makes it a lot harder to unlawfully deport, imprison, and torture them. And as anyone who follows the human rights debate knows, it is unpopular groups like migrants and prisoners who are most likely to have their rights abused when the law is unclear and access to legal information is poor. Which suits some newspapers, but isn’t great if you are the victim of arbitrary or unlawful state action.

Indeed, that is really what the European Convention on Human Rights is. Traditional British common law rights distilled into a single, readable document which the public can understand and, now, thanks to the Human Rights Act, apply in their local courts.

There is a proviso, however. The best and most efficient way of giving people access to their rights is through a lawyer. That is why so many lawyers are up in arms at the legal aid cuts which have already, and will further, reduce access to lawyers for so many vulnerable groups.

But leaving that difficult issue aside for a moment, there is a huge amount which can be achieved – for lawyers and non-lawyers – for relatively little money by providing free online legal information and resources. And that is why free handbooks like this one should be making the front pages, but for all of the right reasons.

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11 thoughts on “The serious lesson hiding behind the Express’s latest rights “outrage”

  1. The Child Poverty Action Group have produced similar guides (focusing on benefits) for many years, and their books are used in every Citizens Advice Bureau in the country. Maybe the Express doesn’t know that, or perhaps this new guide is only of interest to them because the EU is involved.

  2. Its an utter damnable disgrace giving people access to information by which they might be able to determine their rights, totally unacceptable. What horrors will Europe inflict upon us next? access to justice maybe? Such heinous ideas and practices must not be allowed! Scandalous. In fact, i’m absolutely outraged! I’m going to vote ucrap immediately and beat Europa back with a bendy banana rolled up in a Daily Mail!

  3. “…there is a huge amount which can be achieved – for lawyers and non-lawyers – for relatively little money by providing free online legal information and resources. ” So why do so few lawyers take on any pro-bono case work????? Ha!

  4. Granted the Express is again manufacturing outrage to make silly headlines to sell papers, but what caught my eye was – “Indeed, that is really what the European Convention on Human Rights is. Traditional British common law rights distilled into a single, readable document which the public can understand and, now, thanks to the Human Rights Act, apply in their local courts.”
    I am a keen supporter of making the law simple and freely available on the internet. But I am not convinced that ECHR helps with this or that it really represents a codification of common law.

    To take the Qatada example – no member of the public reading Arts 1, 3 & 6 ECHR could have come to any confident conclusion about Qatada, let alone the conclusion that a signatory state cannot deport non-signatory-state-citizens to their own country if they would then face trial in that country using evidence tainted by torture of a 3rd party non-signatory-state-citizen carried on outside any signatory-state and without any signatory-state connivance. On the other hand the generalisations in ECHR mean that non-lawyers frequently use it to produce any result that suits them (whether the official using it as an excuse for inaction, or the citizen using it as a mantra in attempting to duck an obligation).
    Equally it seems very unconvincing to claim that the “traditional” approach to “British common law rights” would have produced the Qatada result under its own steam if the case had been taken here in the days before incorporation of ECHR.

    The problem with access to common law is finding the right result in the jungle of reported cases. But ECHR does not really improve much on that – the generalisations do not help in ordinary specific cases, so the member of the public would be thrown back on the ECtHR case-law, which may still be sparser than UK courts’ case-law but is similarly difficult to fathom thanks to its inconsistencies.

    The other point that this highlights is that we can elect representatives to change and/or codify common law (and amend its codifications), whereas ECHR gives the judiciary the sole power to fill in the blanks and make any changes. Yes democratic governments have agreed to be bound by ECHR and Protocols have been added, but ECHR would be a completely different animal if we moved to a scenario where CoE-member governments all regularly sat down and debated Protocols specifying (and then amending) Qatada-level detail for each of the ECHR rights.

  5. The Daily Express is a hate pamphlet. A racist, sexist, disablist hate pamphlet produced by selfish, ignorant bigots with the empathy skills of an ivory doorknob.

  6. echr, what a farce, we should ignore it and use our own system, what other legal system stops a country from deporting rapists murderers and terrorists many who entered the country illegally, their human rights? what about our human right to be protected from the scumbags. so if we ignore their judgements what can the eu do, fine us,(don’t pay) expel us from the eu, (oh yes please). but that is the last thing they would do.(we pay too much in). the sooner we get someone to stand up against this mess named the echr the sooner we can control the fat cat lawers making their fortunes from these despicable rogues. its not rascist its a fact. God save Nigel Farage.

    • Your right to be protected from “scumbags” is in the criminal and civil law of this country. That is why and how Abu Q (for example) is mostly confined to his house by draconian bail conditions. (Or is he now back in prison?)

      Do keep up! :)

  7. It’s pointless and very hurtful teling us what our rights are but preventing us from accessing them, like a mirage of water in a desert they are not real for me and many others. You barristers who sell yourselves to and lap-dogs for government by being on its panels (a nice retainer?) should go on strike and refuse to help government protect itself (against the like of lil ole me: victim of governmment rights abuses) until the common people can access the law and justice (by making the law very simple and providing Legal Aid to those who really need it) equally with government.

    Even with endless how-to guides I can’t access the law/justice because of my disability – which is why I need to – that and government’s systemic and gross breaches of the common law (consent and confidenmtiality), Data Protection Act, Equality Act and HRA especially Arts. 8 and 10 (privacy/right to know) through the DoH/NHS and DWP in particular. The NHS and government departments touch and operate on patients without consent and pass on our data (including our most sensitive data: medical records) to unknown third parties without our knowledge or consent – no choice. This is wrong but we can’t access justice to seek remedy – which breaches our human rights – round and round we go ad infinitum.

  8. is there an idiot out there who still thinks the EU is a “good thing”? And this information is “tax-payer funded”….. so we are funding our own ruin!! B****y clever, these politicians. However, I don’t think we are done for yet, because this situation (like many others) NEEDS people to SPEAK UP, in whatever way they can.

    Current government has been given instructions to wreck us, followed by their own self-destruct, leaving a void to be filled…..which Brussels hopes to do. We must not allow them to achieve this, no matter what it takes. There IS a war on, a political and mental one, striving to draw the UK into a fully-formed EU, against all common-sense. This war is not fought with tanks or bullets, but with words and cunning. People MUST WAKE UP.

  9. How is it the swivel-eyed loons of the Express and the Daily Mail have found this website, so are posting their drivel? Who is publishing that it exists?

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