Bill of Rights Commission: loading the dice?
23 September 2012
Jonathan Fisher QC wrote an opinion piece in last week’s Jewish Chronicle entitled “The wrongs of human rights“. The article is highly critical of the human rights movement and raises the alarm over recent decisions on religious rights and “growing attacks on our traditions”. It also makes a strong case for the adding of a list of “responsibilities” to the Human Rights Act, which Fisher argues would be “more closely aligned with Judaism’s approach”. The article pulled no punches and chose the most emotive of starting points:
Using human-rights principles to attempt to ban circumcision in Germany is a grotesque insult to the memory of Holocaust victims. The Jewish jurists who helped inspire the human-rights movement must be spinning in their graves at the intellectual violence that their legacy has spawned.
I have written before about the misuse of the Holocaust to justify arguments for reforming the Human Rights Act (the human rights debate has its own version ‘Goodwin’s Law‘). But I will leave the substance of the article for another day – I will be responding soon in the same newspaper. Rather, I wanted to discuss the timing of the article.
As regular readers may know, Fisher is one of the eight member of the Commission on a Bill of Rights, which is currently consulting the public for a second time (see my post). The consultation is closing on 30 September 2012 and the Commission is due to report before the end of the year. No mention is made of the fact that Fisher is a Bill of Rights Commissioner; he is described as a “visiting professor of law at the London School of Economics”.
Does anyone else find this a little odd? The article is alarmist and I have no doubt that it will greatly concern members of the Jewish community, who, having had their suspicions confirmed by an eminent QC (who as far as they know, has no reason to put his opinion except for concern about the issue), may be temped to express their concerns in the consultation which still has two weeks to run.
Indeed, the consultation specifically asks about the issues in the article. One of the questions is “Should there be a role for responsibilities in any UK Bill of Rights?” Maybe I am missing something, but should members of the Commission be rallying support for their views before the consultation closes and without disclosing they are on the Commission?
Perhaps it would have been worse for Fisher to declare his role on the Commission, as that might have suggested that he was representing its views. But he could also have said: “this does not represent the views of the Commission”.
Perhaps I am being oversensitive. Presumably, other members of the Commission have kept writing articles whilst it has been going about its work. But if this Commission is going to achieve anything at all, its members must surely at least attempt to present an open mind towards the issues involved, particularly when they are going to great expense to ask the public what they think.
But, perhaps, this is too much to ask and minds were closed from the start. We will no doubt find out when the Commission produces its recommendations.
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