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.

School’s out? Peers ask Government to use summer holidays to reflect on controversial judicial review reforms – Angela Patrick

RCJ restricted accessAngela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE provides a summary of the House of Lords debate on Government proposals to reform judicial review in Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.

As the House of Lords closes its gilded doors for the long recess, the Westminster village enters its equivalent of the school holidays. Yet, as Ministers pack their red boxes and MPs head diligently back to their constituency business, the House of Lords – debating the Committee Stage of controversial judicial review proposals in Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill – may have suggested that officials and Ministers yet have some homework to do.

Summing up the debate – and thanking Lord Faulks, the Minister responding to a barrage of criticism from all benches, for his efforts – Lord Pannick acknowledged that many of the Government’s proposals on judicial review had been driven by the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling. He suggested that both Ministers would do well to get together over the summer to digest the Peers’ concerns – perhaps on a convenient beach. There were so many flaws in the Bill that Lord Faulks should pack a red pen with his sunscreen (HL Deb, 30 July 2014, Col 1650).

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The Tory human rights “car crash”

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Imagine you are on the board of large corporation. You attend the Annual General Meeting and asked the chief executive about that controversial tax avoidance scheme the company had been considering, but which the in-house legal team had advised against. The Chief Exec smiles and says that has been dealt with: “we just sacked the lawyers”. 

The BBC is reporting what many suspected. Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC was sacked in order to clear the path for major reform of the relationship between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights. This is bad news, for the UK and potentially for the European Court of Human Rights too.

The Attorney General’s advice, which has been leaked to the BBC, was that plan to limit the power of the European Court of Human Rights were “incoherent” and a “legal car crash… with a built-in time delay“. Intriguingly, the BBC’s Nick Robinson also reports that William Hague, the now-former Foreign Secretary, also raised doubts over the plans.

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Whose Magna Carta is it anyway?

90291Yesterday was Magna Carta Day. It is now only 364 days until the 800th anniversary of the sealing of England’s oldest charter of rights, and one of the world’s most influential legal documents.

There will be much celebration in the coming year, and rightly so. Despite its age, Magna Carta is still partly on our statute books. It represents the first legal constraints imposed on the English king by his subjects. It has influenced every major rights law since – notably, the United States Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which are very much still in force.

According to the Magna Carta Trust, there will be eight century beer, festivities, new books, an opera, a calypso tribute and even a new roundabout on the A308 at Runnymede. And if a new roundabout isn’t “English” enough for you, there will of course be lots of dressing up in silly costumes.

But along with celebration, there will be disagreement. It has already started. Continue reading

Human rights reform… Labour reveals its hand

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Sadiq Khan, Labour’s shadow Justice Secretary, has given us a glimpse of what the Human Rights Act would look like under a future Labour government in a Telegraph article. Labour will “shift power back to British courts”, says the former solicitor.
The article presents a strong case for human rights as an “ancient British tradition” and ties future reforms in with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. But the only real proposal here is publishing ‘guidance’ to judges in order to

make sure it is clear to the judges what Parliament intended by Section 2 – that they’re free to disagree with Strasbourg, that it’s sometimes healthy to do so, and that they should feel confident in their judgments based on Britain’s expertise and strong human rights standing.

Section 2 of the Human Rights Act says that any judge deciding a question involving human rights “must take into account“, amongst other things, any judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. This has been a controversial provision as on its face it only requires judges to pay attention to, not follow, Strasbourg’s judgments. But the judiciary have often gone further than they a required to – see Rosalind English’s summary of the recent public spat between the judges.
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Not in our name: Parliamentary committee rejects Government’s case for Judicial Review reform – Angela Patrick

RCJ restricted accessAngela Patrick, Director of Human Rights Policy at JUSTICE, summarises the important Joint Committee on Human Rights report “The implications for access to justice of the Government’s proposals to reform judicial review”.

Proposed Government restrictions to judicial review, including new cuts to legal aid, have already been dissected in detail by this blog (see here, here and here). Controversial Government proposals to limit when legally aided claimant solicitors will be paid in judicial review claims came into force last week (Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration)(Amendment)(No 3) Regulations).  

Heralding the arrival of the changes, the Lord Chancellor again repeated his now oft-heard refrain that reform is necessary to prevent “legal aid abusers” tarnishing the justice system.  Specific restrictions were justified to limit judicial reviews “instigated by pressure groups, designed to force the Government to change its mind over properly taken decisions by democratically elected politicians”.

Today, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) publishes its verdict in a lengthy and considered report on the likely impact on access to justice of the cuts and the proposed changes in Part 4 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. In short, the Committee rejects the case for reform and suggests that the Government go back to the drawing board.

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