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 whoever 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.

The Sun’s aggressive, then submissive, response to my complaint on its human rights reporting

BxuWgJ_IYAAawwN.jpg-largeThe Sun have printed another correction today in relation to its misleading human rights reporting. The correction, on page 2, can be read online or to the right of this post.

The correction was the outcome of a complaint I made about this article – I posted on it here. The main part of the correction relates to the entirely false claim that “The European Court stopped a British judge imposing a whole-life tariff on Ian McLoughlin”. The reality is that although judges were unsure whether they could impose the orders following Vinter v UK in the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Appeal clarified in February 2014 that they definitely could. The Sun have now admitted that was the case.

I am happy that the correction has been made although as I have said before, the damage has to a large extent been done as – let’s be honest – how many people read the clarifications and corrections box (which is located immediately adjacent to the eye-catching Page 3…).

But what I found most interesting about the process, which was started by the Press Complaints Commission and concluded by its post-Leveson successor, the Indepenndent Press Standards Orgaisation (IPSO), was the initial response to my complaint (PDF here) by The Sun’s Ombudsman, Philippa Kennedy OBE, which I thought was needlessly aggressive and demonstrates a worrying approach to this issue. I will select a few choice quotes:

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No, The Sun, “Euro judges” do not “go against UK in 3 out of 5 cases”. More like 1 in 100.

SUN WRONG AGAIN AGAINAt the risk of sounding like a broken record, The Sun has got it badly wrong on human rights. Again. On 24 August 2014 Craig Woodhouse reported that “Euro judges go against UK in 3 out of 5 cases(£). This is false and seriously misleading.

I explored this issue in detail back in 2012 when the Daily Mail as well as others claimed that the UK loses 3 out of 4 cases. Since that debacle, the European Court of Human Rights has produced some very clear documents on the statistics page of its website.

According to page 8 of this document, there have been 22,065 applications against UK 1959-2013. That means that 22,065 people or so have brought cases against the UK. Of those cases, there have been 297 resulting in a violation.

I am no statistician but 297 as a percentage of 22,065 is not “3 out of 5″. It is in fact 1.35%. Less than 2 in 100.

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The right outcome: Tricycle Theatre reverses UK Jewish Film Festival ban

TRICYCLE-UKJFFAs a brief update to my post from last week. The Tricycle Theatre and the UK Jewish Film Festival have settled their differences after an agreement was struck to end the theatre’s refusal to host the festival.

Despite its previously robust defence of the decision, the Tricycle appears to have entirely relented on the issue of Israeli Embassy funding. A joint statement has been published, stating amongst other things:

‘Some weeks ago the UKJFF fell out, very publicly, with the Tricycle over a condition imposed by the Tricycle regarding funding. This provoked considerable public upset. Both organisations have come together to end that. Following lengthy discussions between the Tricycle and UKJFF, the Tricycle has now withdrawn its objection and invited back the UK Jewish Film Festival on the same terms as in previous years with no restrictions on funding from the Embassy of Israel in London. The UKJFF and the Tricycle have agreed to work together to rebuild their relationship and although the festival is not able to return in 2014, we hope to begin the process of rebuilding trust and confidence with a view to holding events in the future.

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Have the Tricycle Theatre broken the law by refusing to host the Jewish Film Festival?

TRICYCLE-UKJFFUpdated | It emerged on Tuesday the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn has refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) for the first time in eight years. The theatre told UKJFF that they must reject longstanding funding from the Israeli Embassy if they wanted to use the venue. UKJFF refused and the relationship ended.

There has already been some excellent writing: see Nick Cohen, Archie Bland and Dorian Lynskey. Cohen makes a powerful case for the decision being anti-Semitic. I’m not going to go there, although as I have been saying on Twitter, in my view this is a bad move by the Tricycle. I thought it would be interesting, however, to investigate whether the Tricycle may have broken any laws.

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The rise of the secret trial: Closed Material Procedures one year on – Lawrence McNamara

Justice and SecurityLast week Justice Secretary Chris Grayling reported on how often closed material proceedings (CMPs) have been sought under the Justice and Security Act 2013 (JSA), as he is required to do annually under the Act. As the first and only official consolidated presentation of how the new CMP regime is being used, this two-page written ministerial statement warrants close attention.

The Secretary of State’s report provides only numbers. In the Bingham Centre’s Review of the First Report by the Secretary of State, we have tried to match cases to those numbers and, when read in light of the cases, have found good reasons to be concern about the difficulty of verifying the accuracy of the report, the ways that CMPs are being used, and the adequacy of the reporting requirements.

What are the reporting requirements?   Continue reading

The Sun just keeps getting it wrong on human rights

Sun Wrong AgainWith 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.