Another human rights zombie myth
14 August 2014
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.
I have told him on Twitter that the figures are wrong and that nine months ago the Daily Mail published this correction:
In article on 8 October said that the UK has paid £4.4million in compensation to criminals under rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. In fact, the money went to a range of claimants and only £1.7million was compensation; legal costs accounted for the rest.
Let’s see whether the figures are now corrected [Update 14.8.14, 17:50 – Stephen Pollard has apologised on Twitter and has said he will ask the Express to amend the piece]
Meanwhile, over at The Times, former Lord Chancellor Jack Straw has cheekily cherry picked the bits of Lord Neuberger’s excellent recent speech which support his argument in an article criticising the “arrogant” Strasbourg court (£). He is right that the Supreme Court President criticised the inconsistency of some of the Court’s judgments, but fails to mention that Lord Neuberger’s very clear conclusion that the Court was on balance a force for good, “protecting individuals against the might of the modern state“. Neuberger said:
The fact that “unelected” judges, especially foreign judges, are perceived to have been given powers which they previously had not enjoyed, coupled with the distaste in some political quarters for all things European, and the media’s concentration on prisoners’ votes and asylum seekers, has rendered the Convention something of a whipping boy for some politicians and newspapers. This appears to many people to be unfortunate. There are decisions of the Strasbourg court with which one can reasonably disagree, indeed with which I disagree. This is scarcely surprising; indeed, it would be astonishing if it were otherwise.
In the final analysis, says Neuberger, “there are very few of [the Court’s] decisions which can fairly be said to be misconceived“. If only the same could be said about newspaper stories about human rights.