Apocalypse soon: The Conservatives reveal their real plans for human rights

3 October 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 22.47.13It turns out that the Prime Minister missed out the really important bits about the Tory plans for human rights reform from his Conference speech. My cautious optimism in my post was entirely misplaced too. 

We will be covering the announcements in detail in the coming days, but in the meantime, the full proposals, named, with major chutzpahProtecting Human Rights in the UK, are here.

My provisional thoughts are below, subject to the qualifier that many of the wackier proposals in this document are highly unlikely to make it through Parliament, even if the Conservative Party wins a majority in the next election. In that sense, this may be more about electoral politics than a solid plan. But for the purpose of this post I will assume the document is a serious proposal and not just a major trolling exercise.

I can see why Grieve, Clarke and Hague had to go. The plan to make European Court of Human Rights judgments “advisory”  is a full frontal attack on an international treaty which we signed up to and haven’t withdrawn from. For the UK to be under an international legal obligation to “abide by” judgments of the ECtHR and for Parliament simultaneously to legislate that those judgments are only advisory is incoherent at best and anarchic at worst. It demonstrates to the whole world that the UK Parliament has no truck for international obligations.

The fact that the Ministerial Code will be amended to make clear to ministers they are not bound by international law. Is that what the public wants? That the UK is no longer bound by international law?

It is also cowardly. If the intention is to withdraw from the ECHR, then that should be the policy. We should probably have a referendum about it. But these proposals are an attempt to pick a fight with the European Court/Council of Europe under the banner of “protecting” human rights. If the Council refuses to accept change, then the UK will withdraw, or will be expelled. In reality, the UK would be setting terms which the ECtHR cannot possibly accept – if it were to sanction what the UK is proposing then it would be losing the only genuine power it has, to enforce judgments

There is a genuine possibility that the ECHR project will now collapse. One of the features of international law is that it relies to a large extent on the good will of the states involved and their legislatures in respecting the obligations – what is the ECtHR going to do if Russia decides not to abide by a judgment… invade the country?
Another view is that if you really break down what this proposal is saying then it will make little difference in practice. The ECHR doesn’t bind Parliament, but rather the UK as a whole. However, if Parliament decides that it will reword the treaty without withdrawing from it, that is an incoherent approach (as Grieve described it). It actually has the potential to undermine Parliamentary sovereignty, not strengthen it, by precipitating a constitutional crisis. The ECHR is not directly enforceable in domestic courts but who knows what the more creative judges and lawyers will do with this.

The point about devolution is also really sticky: see Aileen McHarg’s post. Almost certainly, Scotland and Northern Ireland (and perhaps Wales) will challenge the right/ability of Westminster to impose this on them. I think they may win that argument meaning the supposed bill of rights will be England only. Less human rights for the English. Not such a catchy slogan.

The paper contains major factual errors. Like this: “In 2013 the Strasbourg Court ruled that murderers cannot be sentenced to prison for life, as to do so was contrary to Article 3 of the Convention”. Not true. At all. Here is my post on my successful complaint against The Sun for saying exactly that.

On obligations, which are to “rebalance” the existing rights. What this really amounts to is a politicisation of a rights instrument. Of course, a party which wins a majority in a first past the post system gets the opportunity to impose laws which those people who didn’t vote for the party will object to. The quid pro quo is that if the other party win the next election, they can reverse those laws. But rights instruments (at least, the way they are understood across the world) are intended to sit above party politics and permit scrutiny, from a largely apolitical perspective, by judges of executive action. By recalibrating the rights according to the political beliefs of one party (and from the looks of it, only one section of that party), it turns the supposed “bill of rights” into something quite different: a kind of legal backstop for ideology.

It’s grim stuff. The Sun, Daily Mail, Express and Telegraph have almost won. The monstering has had its effect. More to come.

6 comments


  1. CHRISTINE DUMONCEAU says:

    Dear Sir, I read with avid curiosity this latest email. I fail to be surprised. TTIP, transatlantic treaty and Investment partnership is looming, this stuff gives away the very Sovereignty of any State. Having studies whatever is now available on TTIP, it is my firm belief that Government have already made up their mind that this TTIP will be implemented, it is already happening, Egypt being sued for raising the minimum wage, Pharmaceutical Companies in the US dictating to Hospitals what can be sold, given to patients, and access to vitamins and minerals to those on cancer treatment. Here we have secret courts, the opinions of one government like in the case of the Scottish Parliament one ignored, as in the case of the bedroom tax, trident on the Clyde, and much more. Renditions flight to suit the Americans. Sorry, but the Politicians no longer call the shots, big Business, Corporations are calling them. Even over taxes, information, the quality of the truth available in the Press. And most of our Politicians are linked in some way with Businesses, Chairs and etc… Integrity, Justice and Democracy are just a fallacy. We went wrong somewhere along our growth and development in the West. Good Job Sir Christine Date: Thu, 2 Oct 2014 23:01:56 +0000 To: adibachristine@hotmail.com

  2. Thank you for this.

    x

  3. Reblogged this on amnesiaclinic and commented:
    A commenter on Vox Political sums it up. This links in with TTIP and other legislation putting the corporations and the 1% above the law. Add into the mix political activists are now domestic terrorists and greatly increased surveillance means we have to stop this now!

  4. Jon Danzig says:

    Why is the European Convention on Human Rights such a problem for us, and not the other 46 countries who have also signed up to it?

    See my commentary:

    http://www.humanrights.mythexploder.com

  5. Sam G says:

    It’s not chutzpa, it’s as me and my mother would say a SHANDA! Shanda on those who think this is the rule of law. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “We will always stand against real human rights abuses and political persecution. But these plans will make sure that we put Britain first and restore common sense to human rights in this country.” Ms N McIntosh had it completely spot on, they (the government) stand against real human rights abuses. They take a stand and object to things they do wrong, human rights abuses they perpetrate.

    I can only hope that there will be a backlash from the Judiciary but I fear they are too removed from it all. I remember speaking to Clive Lewis J and I said “I came to this country to practice because I believed the judiciary where the best in the world, the most respected & progressive, the most impartial” He responded “You said that in the past tense” I retorted “Prove me wrong.”

  6. tradespy says:

    The UK’s international reputation would clearly be shredded by any such move, although that doesn’t seem to worry the likes of Grayling.

    There are of course many things that would have to happen before this crazy proposal could come to pass; and certainly one hopes that the wiser counsel of the UK’s closest international allies would have a strongly dissuasive effect on a future government that tried to proceed in the ways outlined.

    In the meantime, Grayling is certainly handing a massive election gift to Lib Dems, Labour and others.

    I especially liked your insight on how assemblies in Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland might react

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