The Monstering of Human Rights

On Friday 19 September I spoke at a very interesting conference at the University of Liverpool on Human Rights in the UK Media: Representation and Reality. My talk was entitled The Monstering of Human Rights. You can download it by clicking here (PDF). It is also embedded below.

As always, comments are welcome. There is quite a lot in there tying together some of the themes I have been writing about over the past few years. As a number of people pointed out in Liverpool, it is too easy to point to errors in human rights reporting as proof that all criticisms of the human rights system are bogus, which is clearly wrong. But nonetheless, misinformation and exaggeration is an important feature of the public debate on human rights and it is interesting to consider why that might be the case, and – a question which has troubled me over the past few years – how to stop it happening.

I expect the issue of human rights reform will arise again now that the Scottish referendum process has concluded and the political parties are setting out their agendas for 2015. It seems pretty clear that the Conservative Party will promise to repeal the Human Rights Act but what they will do in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights is still very much an unknown. My expectation is that they will not promise to withdraw from the ECHR. Not yet, anyway. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are likely to retain the existing system, with a few tweaks. But whomever wins the election, there is a huge amount of work to be done to repair the reputation of human rights laws in the UK and convince the public that they are, on balance, a good thing.

PS. if any kind soul would like to turn the PDF version into a HTML linked blog-ready post, I would be eternally grateful! Email me if you would be interested, you would of course get full credit in the ensuing post/s.

Chakrabarti debates Clarke on secret courts bill

ClarkerabartiThe Constitutional and Administrative Bar Association (ALBA)  hosted an invigorating debate on Tuesday night, pitting Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke against Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, over the question of Closed Material Procedures (CMPs) in civil claims, as proposed in the Justice and Security Bill.

The Bill is currently going through the parliamentary process, having reached the report stage in the House of Commons on 4 March 2013. Of particular note to those with an interest in human rights are the proposals to introduce CMPs into civil damages actions, where allegations such as complicity in torture by the UK intelligence agencies are made.

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The BAILII lecture: No Judgment, No Justice

For justice to be seen to be done, judgments given in open court must be accessible in two senses. They must be clearly written so that a reasonably well informed member of the public can understand what is being decided. But they must also be available to the public, and in this sense their accessibility depends on their being reported.

Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, so stated in the first BAILII annual lecture, hosted by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP at their premises in Fleet Street last night. The full speech can be read here.

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The 21st Century Coroner

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 has created the office of Chief Coroner, plucked at the very last minute from the Coalition’s ‘bonfire of the quangos’.  On Friday, the first Chief Coroner, His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC, delivered The Howard League for Penal Reform’s 2012 Parmoor Lecture.

Six weeks into his post, Judge Thornton presents a frank exposition of the challenges facing the system he now heads, sets out what he considers to be its purpose, and charts its remarkable genesis.

Coroners have, it seems, occupied for the best part of a millennium a peculiar pocket of public life, adapting their function and purpose over time in a manner not always understood by those working outside the system, or even by they themselves.  From the Articles of Eyre to the 2009 Act, via Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart (the latter does not come out well), the Chief Coroner describes how ‘crowners’, as they were originally known, have evolved from lay magistrates or collectors of fines, to the judges they are today. Continue reading

Why we allow dissent – by our judges

Why do judges disagree and publish their disagreements when cases get decided? After all, the Cabinet does not do so (openly at least), and our FTSE-100 companies do not generally do so, when their executives propose a merger or launch a new product.  Surely, judicial dissent is a recipe for diminishing the authority of the majority answer, and an invitation to self-indulgence on the part of the minority to re-fight lost and irrelevant battles.

Lord Kerr has given a very persuasive answer to both concerns in the Birkenhead lecture on 8 October 2012. But it is worth thinking about the alternative way of doing things, before making up your mind on whether the current way is the best way.

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Outlawing god?

Interested in the interaction between religion and law? If so, you will be interested in an event I am helping to organise this coming Monday 23 July at 6:30 for a 7pm start. There are a few tickets remaining – click here for details and booking , which is essential. The event is raising money for free legal advice clinics run by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Nb. the event is separate from the blog and 1 Crown Office Row, but hopefully will be of interest to some of our readers…

OUTLAWING GOD? The clash of the courts with religious believers

A “Question Time” style panel discussion of one of today’s most important and controversial issues:

Featuring a superb expert panel:

  • Joshua Rozenberg (chair) – Britain’s best known legal commentator;
  • Dr Evan Harris – Former MP and author of The Secular Manifesto ;
  • Rabbi Michael Laitner – Assistant Rabbi, Finchley United Synagogue (Kinloss), qualified solicitor;
  • John Bowers QC – Deputy High Court Judge and leading barrister with expertise in discrimination law;
  • Dinah Rose QC – Leading public law and human rights barrister. Acted for the pupil in ‘the JFS case’.

Monday, 23 July 2012, 6:30pm for 7:00pm, followed by a reception with canapés and wine

Tickets: £20 – all details here

Norton Rose LLP, 3 More London Riverside, London SE1 2AQ