Bill of Rights Commission: loading the dice?

23 September 2012 by

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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  1. goggzilla says:

    Dear Peter, could not reply above so just a quick one here – if Ha’Shem created the universe then he/she/it must be pretty clever. Now we ask “Is circumcision a covenant with God or a way of keeping sand out of your shlong in the desert?” A commonsense (like not eating pork) prohibition that does not apply in Golder’s Green.

    1. Peter says:

      I ascribe to what Spinoza said a few hundred years ago, God did not create the universe, God *is* the universe, this takes all the crap out of the argument, and allows for a much more rational way to see phenomena, through the lens of science, instead of myth and made up nonsense.

      1. goggzilla says:

        “The Old Testament is either the word of God or a semi-nomad tribe in the Near East trying to make sense of the world”. (Goggzilla).

        1. Peter says:

          I only believe in evidence and think that people who believe in things they have no evidence for, are dangerous and capable of great cruelty, based only on what they were told by their parents and other people they have grown up with and crocodile emotions.

      2. Rosemary Cantwell says:

        Well said!

  2. Lofthouse says:

    …they may even read some of them :)

    ‘They’ were named in 2011 as……Lib-dem peer Lord Lester QC, author of the Human Rights Act, Jonathan Fisher QC, a visiting professor of the LSE, barrister Phillipe Sands author of several books on the Iraq war [RESIGNED Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, an expert on political finance and corruption and a member of the academic panel on party funding of the Committee on Standards in Public Life].

    The commission is headed by former Home Office Permanent Secretary, Sir Leigh Lewis. Other members of the panel are Martin Howe QC, Anthony Speaight QC, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC and Sir David Edward.

  3. Lofthouse says:

    Commission website is at :

    Second consultation

    Our second consultation, published on 11 July, invites your views on a number of key issues that form part of our mandate. The consultation paper is available in English and Welsh, and an Easy to Read version will be available shortly. We welcome your views by the deadline of 30 September 2012.

    So anyone who wishes to has 7 days to make a contribution…..

  4. JenTheHen says:

    Oops, I meant to write: criminal, insane or both, sorry.
    I love Lofthouse’s description ‘hysteria’, it is. Lofthouse puts it clearly (far better than I can), we must ‘know full details about members of the Commission… all of them.’ I too would like to know who they are and who selected them/criteria and who selected who selects them, in other words transparency. Yes, why on earth are ‘faith groups’ considered to be vital to these panels when they are openly and proudly biased and anti-equality? Surely the composition of the panel should accurately reflect the population of the UK: race/ethnicity, faith/atheist, disabled/not and so on, accurately reflect the ‘common’ person?

  5. goggzilla says:

    Astounding that many seem to know what those who died in the Shoah felt and thought. Can Mr Fisher give me next week’s winning lottery numbers?

  6. Stephen J. Schneider says:

    Adam Wagner asks, are others concerned that J Fisher QC did not detach his views on the German circumcision case from his current role(s), notably as member of the Commission on Human Rights Bill; I for one agree that such a disclaimer was more than suitable.

    Particularly for those of us who spent the first half of our lives trying to overthrow institutionalized discrimination, this circumcision issue interlocks messily with rights issues. No one statement is adequate to the issues but I’ll take a stab here. When party A adopts the tone diction and authority of ‘principle’, on an issue, but applies it aggressively and selectively to certain instances where (presto) party B alone is involved, while keeping mum on more egregious instances elsewhere, we are encountering ‘racist-type’ discrimination in an evolved form. This, in the USA, was what ‘Jim Crow’ was all about, this is what ‘separate but equal’ schooling was all about, this what (black) voter registration was all about, and this is largely what white-collar antisemitism was and is all about since a long long time. This is how it works. You don’t forbid citizens to wound animals with shotgun pellets or .275 caliber slugs, or hook fish through their lips then drown them in air; you forbid kosher slaughter, as ‘cruelty.’
    After a few centuries of this, Party B becomes uptight, choler invades her/his responses, loss of cool, etc. Plenty more to think & say about all that of course.

    An piece of legislation in the USA followed interestingly on the ‘Civil Rights Movement’ invoked just above (late 1960s) making it a Federal misdemeanour to (I quote from memory) ‘deprive a citizen of his rights under colour of law.’

    “Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?” asks Marlowe’s Faust. I leave to the younger and better educated their enumeration.

  7. Peter says:

    What baffles me is, why these people believe male babies do not have the right to the bodies they are born with.

    1. goggzilla says:

      Err..something to do with a covenant with God, mate. Whether one believes this or not is another matter. (Strokes non existent Rabbinical beard)

      1. Peter says:

        I make it a practice not to use terms that I cannot define, because if I cannot deconstruct my terms. I have not a clue what I’m talking about.

        I perceive all words to be labels of one sort or another. Taking the term God and deconstructing it, leads me to believe the term ‘God’ to be that which created me, fair enough. So what created me?

        At first thought I was created by an act of sex by my parents around 64 years ago, so yeah worship of sex and my parents seems in order, but hang on a bit what created my parents, oh yeah I get it, my parents were created by their parents, all is coming clear now, but isn’t the whole thing getting a bit circular?

        All the parents of parents did not just pop out of thin air, something must have created them. Careful observation espies something big and shiny going over my head every day, it is the energy source that created the parents of the parents that created me, research tells me this big shiny thing is called the sun, so it seems to me to be a fair fit, to assume God is the sun and by using an incredibly clever technique called evolution created me, all well and good, but having created me whole, why would God having gone to all that trouble, want bits chopped off of me, after I was born?

  8. JenTheHen says:

    Bloody religions, all of them: each one thinks it can hijack human rights to enforce it’s ‘traditions’ in the name of ‘respect’ for and ‘protection’ of its believers’ beliefs – however outlandish and brutal they are – such as circumcision which breaches every child’s right to bodily integrity, surely a most fundamental human right.

    Each religion (which makes a big noise, 3 of them perhaps, some are very quiet because their religion is in harmony with human rights law) claims their ‘history and traditions’ trump human rights law so they attack the HRA and try to do away with it so they can carry on doing their perverse mutilations (circumcision, without consent) and refuse to provide services for gay couples, it stinks.

    The HRA was created in part to protect people from being used for medical experimentation (and torture) as so many were by German doctors in concentration camps, you’d think those who wish to undermine human rights law would think of this abuse and lack of consent (of course) before misusing their positions as highlighted in this article.

    ‘Intellectual violence’, how dare he write that? In my opinion the violence comes from those who wish to pervert human rights law to create exceptions for particular groups (‘religions’, particularly their own) as an excuse to treat some minority groups (including male children and gay people) less favourably than the majority by refusing them the protection of the law.

    These religious fanatics choose to ‘forget’ that their beliefs are minority beliefs, are based on what was acceptable millennia ago (hopefully society has moved on since then) and utterly ridiculous to a high percentage of the UK population Secular Society data (, I think it’s true and correctly reflects beliefs in the UK.

    A judge using his position and power to push his personal anti-abortion beliefs based on his ‘christianity’, this jewish man upset because circumcision is under attack for very sound reasons, muslims angry because free speech is protected, it all makes me sick: these religious folk are inhumane and dangerous, the EU and UN must put a stop to these terrible abuses and robustly enforce the law, the same law for all no massive extra margins of appreciation for protection of wishy-washy and variable religious belief.

    If my guru (I have none actually) told me he must tattoo my baby and I allowed this my child would be removed by social services for its own protection and I would be locked up as mad, insane or both and rightly so.

    Religion and minority belief should play no part in UK or EU law, our most basic laws and human rights are based on worldwide ethical beliefs tried and tested over time, it is untrue to say they are ‘christian’ indeed fisher claims they HR law is ‘jewish’.

    No Adam you are not being oversensitive, thanks for noting more misuse of the Holocaust and alerting as many people as possible about Jonathan Fisher’s lack of disclosure, his obvious conflict of interests and his attempts to change the law to suit himself and his, in my view, very dangerous beliefs.

  9. Lofthouse says:

    this question is being debated in the US too, not only in Germany, but the HR arguments are those of the rights of the child – I dont feel the HR aspects can even be discussed in isolation from female circumcision (which is not a ‘Jewish’ concern) – perhaps the (highly understandable) bias of the majority of Jews against Germany is in no small way colouring the issue here?

    Yes, it would be preferable for us to know full details about members of the Commission – but that’s all of them, not just this gentleman in particular – they are about to make suggestions that will affect me personally – I’d like to know who they are, and more importantly, who selected them, and what criteria were used to select them? Why are ‘faith groups’ considered to be vital to these panels – are any Atheists represented ?

  10. John D says:

    It seems to me that the remarks made by Jonathan Fisher are clearly hysterical. Ordinarily, it would not make much difference if he wishes to parade his hysteria in public but what worries me is that this man has been elevated to the rank of a Bill of Rights Commissioner. How can we take his and the Commission’s recommendations seriously when he clearly lacks self-control? As a resident in a largely and growingly secular society, I am sure the majority of people in this country do not want religion being introduced into an area as sensitive as human rights. Secular ethics and morality are far preferable to any religious ideologies, thank you very much !!

  11. Margaret says:

    Thanks for this – I missed the earlier post and Godwin’s law. But there was an article in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung recently by a former leader of the Jewish community headed along the lines of ‘Don’t you want us Jews in Germany any longer?’ which annoyed me. I had been reading Peter Watson’s The German Genius, the introduction to which has an analysis of the holocaust theme in postwar German history.
    Fwiw, and digressing, there was a discussion evening here recently between representatives of the Muslim, Jewish and Protestant communities in which it was said that according to Jewish statistics, 80% of Jews in Germany aren’t circumcised. It was said that a lot of those who came from the Soviet Union found it safer to have no physical sign of their religion.

    1. goggzilla says:

      Often Russian Jews just “are not frumm”.

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