Updated | Here is a good example of how human rights myths spread. In October 2013 the Daily Mail and other newspapers published some totally misleading and inaccurate figures about European Court of Human Rights damages. The following month, after a complaint and a slap on the wrist from the Press Complaints Commission, the Mail corrected its figures – the full story is here.
By like a particularly troublesome zombie, or Theresa May’s (zombie?) cat, human rights myths have a tendency to rise from the dead and this case is no exception. On 13 August 2014 Stephen Pollard, writing in the Express, said this:
Last year for instance figures released in the House of Commons Library showed that murderers, paedophiles and rapists had been given £4.4million of British taxpayers’ money because of rulings by the ECHR. Abu Qatada himself received £2,500 before he was deported as compensation for what was deemed his unlawful detention.
With the May 2015 General Election looming, the battle for the future of human rights in the UK is hotting up. The Prime Minister has just sacked his long-standing Attorney General apparently because he disagreed with a mooted Tory manifesto policy which would, he rightly suggested, breach the UK’s international law obligations.
Meanwhile, over on what used to be Fleet Street,we can expect plenty of human rights misinformation and misrepresentation, as per usual. The Sun, a longterm offender, has been at it again with two recent articles. I thought it would be useful to respond in a bit of detail as they contain a number of common misrepresentations. And because they are behind a paywall, the usual army of Twitter fact checkers are left somewhat powerless.
The debate over the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights is already mired with misunderstanding (see this and this), but amazingly Saturday’s Times (£) managed to up the stupid-quotient by another few notches.
The headline was “Ministers to block ‘right to marry’ in EU backlash“. Apparently the Government has “vowed to block a fresh push to introduce new EU human rights, such as the right to marry and the right to collective bargaining, into Britain“. And as the Times’ political editor Francis Elliot (not to be confused with the generally sound legal correspondent Frances Gibb) reported:
The charter enshrines a host of rights not found in other declarations, including personal, work and family relations. One of them is a proposed “right to marry and found a family”.
The only problem is that… the right to “marry and found a family” already exists in the European Convention on Human Rights. It’s in Article 12. It has been there since the UK signed up to the ECHR in 1953. Here it is:
The Daily Mail has belatedly “corrected” its front page story on human rights damages, over a month after it appeared on 7 October 2013. Early last month I blogged on the original bogus article, which was so poor it generated a response from the ordinarily placid Council of Europe.
I have quote-pincered “corrected” as despite the newspaper’s actions, the damage is already done. A month has passed, which in social media time might as well be million years. People have moved on. Another human rights myth is implanted in the collective consciousness, and no sad little correction is going to dislodge a front page headline.
And to make things worse, the story was amplified by a whole host of other newspapers which picked it up without bothering to check the facts, including the Telegraph (corrected) and Daily Star (as yet uncorrected).
What really rankles about this story is how wrong it was.
Yesterday saw another poor piece of human rights reporting from the Telegraph, again from Home Affairs Correspondent David Barrett. Strasbourg human rights court threatens key counter-terrorism powers. It is a typical piece of hall-of-mirrors reporting; all of the basic elements are there but presented in a distorted and inaccurate way.
The piece is about the case of Sabure Malik, a British investment banker who was stopped by police in 2010 at Heathrow on his way back from an organised package tour to undertake the Hajj. Full details of his case, which is supported by Liberty, are in the Euoprean Court of Human Rights’ admissibility decision here. It was granted permission to proceed in May 2013, well before the David Miranda controversy which took place in August.
I’ll take this shortly.
“Human Right to Make a Killing”, screamed the Daily Mail last week, publishing details from a “damning dossier” which showed “Judges in Strasbourg paid out £4.4m to some of Britain’s worst criminals”.
The figures were taken from the response to a Parliamentary question put by Conservative MP Philip Davies. You can hear me debating him about the issue on BBC Radio 5 Live by clicking here – from 1:41:15 – watch out for the ‘human rights gravy train’ steaming into the debate around half way through.
Here is the full table if you are interested in the facts, which the Mail, Telegraph and no doubt others were clearly not.
Updated – headline now corrected | Remember when The Sun was reprimanded by the Press Complaints Commission for muddling up the European Union and our local Court of Appeal in a story about a human rights judgment? You probably should because it happened just two weeks ago.
Well, despite telling the PCC that they would incorporate the issue into its staff training programme, The Sun has been at it again following yesterday’s European Court of Human Rights ruling on whole life sentences. The politics section of its website currently shows this on the sidebar:
Updated | Remember Inhuman Rights, The Sun’s garbled reporting of this Court of Appeal decision on Criminal Record Bureau checks? In February, I wrote this: No, The Sun, the Human Rights Act is not the EU. My complaint was about the headline, which screamed “Now EU could let fiends like him prey on your children“. This was obvious nonsense, since the judgment had nothing to do with the EU.
Well, I am delighted to report that following my post, the European Commission, which represents the interests of the European Union, complained to the Press Complaints Commission and the complaint has now been upheld. There was a “clear failure to take appropriate care over the accuracy of the coverage and a breach of the Editor’s Code, which was particularly significant at a time when the roles of both the EU and the Convention were a matter of major public debate“.
The newspaper has now published a correction. The full Adjudication can be found here. This is the main bit: Continue reading
Sir John Donaldson (National Portrait Gallery)
Another title for this post might have been “they did not want to understand the judgment.”
In light of recent shenanigans, it seems apt to reproduce the first five paragraphs of the 25-year-old Court of Appeal judgment in (1) Nadarajah Vilvarajah, (2) Vaithialingham Skandarajah v Secretary of State For the Home Department 1990 WL 754859 (Update – download from BAILII here), which I was alerted to by a colleague. Sir John Donaldson, then Master of the Rolls, complains in withering style about media coverage of a recent judgment. The last line is the best, although a little depressing.
Lessons learned? The more things change, the more they stay the same. Political posturing over immigration and asylum law long predated the Human Rights Act. And Law in Action was as good then as it is now.
Here is a taster:
I was watching the England football team beat Ireland in the World Cup earlier when I was tweeted a cracking bit of legal gobbledegook from The Sun: Youngsters at risk after EU ruling. According to The Sun, Now the “EU could let fiends like him prey on your children“.
For the record, the Court of Appeal, which produced the judgment, is not an EU court. It is an English and Welsh court, based in the Royal Courts of Justice in London. And the EU had absolutely nothing to do with this judgment, which was about CRB checks and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to family and private life); you can find our analysis here. I won’t address the detail if the judgment here; read our summary and see if you think The Sun is right.
AI v MT  EWHC 100 (Fam) – Read judgment
The Times (amongst others) today deserves a spell on the legal naughty step. Its headline announces that a judge’s decision “opens way to divorces by Sharia“. One might expect therefore to find that the judgment giving rise to the headline – the decision of Baker J in the Family Court in AI v MT – was about Sharia law, or otherwise had something to do with it. In fact the judgment concerned a Jewish divorce under the auspices of the Beth Din, and had nothing to do with Sharia at all.
The judge approved a final order in matrimonial proceedings by consent. That consent order had arisen from the Beth Din. It did not elevate the Beth Din to the status of the High Court. To the contrary, the judge stated that the following legal principles applied (paras -):
On 29 December 2012 The Daily Telegraph published an article under the headline Christians have no right to refuse to work on Sundays.
This has now been shown to be nonsense. The judgment in Mba v London Borough of Merton was released yesterday and is analysed here. Mr Justice Langstaff made entirely clear that the judgment only applies to the individual worker who brought the appeal, not more generally. Here is some inaccurate reporting from David Barrett (remember this by him?), Telegraph Home Affairs correspondent:
Despite the Leveson Report, the Daily Mail’s brief flirtation with the Human Rights Act has not even lasted a month. This article by Home Affairs Correspondent Jack Doyle (Twitter: @jackwdoyle) is a weird one, even by the Mail’s standards. Here is the headline:
£500,000 a week in legal aid for prisoners’ human rights claims: YOU pay for them to seek easier life or early release
Clear, right? We are apparently spending £26m per year on prisoners’ human rights claims. And here is the first line:
Taxpayers are handing nearly £500,000 a week in legal aid to prisoners to help them make human rights claims.
That’s sounds like a lot of money to spend on prisoners’ human rights claims! But wait, there’s more… Continue reading
As promised on Twitter, in readiness for tomorrow’s Commission on a Bill of Rights report (for more, see my post about grasshoppers), here is BILL OF RIGHTS COMMISSION BINGO!
You can click on the picture below or click here to download the PDF.. Diagonal lines count! And the centre square is a free square so you can cross through that too. Enjoy playing – the rules are in the PDF. Hopefully some serious coverage tomorrow as well. (Update – the Commission report is out, my initial analysis is here).
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The Commission on a Bill of Rights is rumoured to be publishing its report tomorrow, just in time for its end-of-2012 deadline. It is also widely being reported, unsurprisingly, that the Commission may not produce a unified report at all. Unsurprising because the Commission was set an almost impossible task from the start.
Four Conservatives and four Liberal Democrats told to “sort out” UK human rights (the terms of reference were a little less vague, but that’s basically it), whilst also being limited to proposing a Bill of Rights that “incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights“. In other words, the could do very little at all except fiddle with our already existing, and actually quite elegant, Human Rights Act 1998. I have compared any new Bill of Rights arising from the Commission a bit like an updated Ford Fiesta; a new look and a few new features, but essentially the same car.
There will be plenty of analysis once the report is released. I wanted to concentrate here on the likely reaction. Matthew Parris got it right in Saturday’s Times (£) when he quoted Edmund Burke: