Dominic Grieve QC was appointed as the Coalition Government’s Attorney General in May 2010. He remained in post until July 2014 when he was sacked. He said he would “happily” have stayed on, but the reality was that he could not support the Conservative Party’s radical plans to reform UK human rights law.
Since then he has become a fierce and impassioned critic of the Tory plans, somewhat surprisingly given his public persona which is otherwise calm and lawyerly. He has produced two detailed, and devastating, critiques: the first in Prospect Magazine and then last night in a lecture at University College London. Both are highly recommended as measured and unarguably correct analyses of the Tory plan.
To my mind, Dominic Grieve QC is a bit of a hero. He has stood up for principle at the expense of his political career. He did not just resign in disgust, he then made it his business to explain to people – and particularly those on the Right – why the Tory plans would be “devastating both for ourselves domestically as it will be for the future of the Convention” (p.24).
A few tidbits from the speech. On motivations:
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion on reading the paper that the real problem for its authors is not so much the interpretation of the Convention by the Strasbourg Court or indeed our own domestic courts but the frustration that an international legal obligation prevents the UK government from being able to ignore judgments when it considers that they are adverse to its view of what is in the public interest.
On criticisms of the Court:
But I have to say that as a lawyer this is not the first time I have disagreed with a court decision in a case in which I have appeared. Courts are human constructs. Their decisions are as open to criticism as any other and lawyers and parties on the losing side will usually be discontented with the outcome. Yet in a number of key cases involving this country, the court has made adverse findings which an overwhelming majority would now conclude were correct
On the Court aggrandizing its jurisdiction (Lord Hoffmann’s criticism):
The implication if taken to its logical conclusion must be that Convention should have remained fixed in the moral and ethical norms of 1950. Judicial interpretation to reflect modern times is not new and is rooted in our common law tradition.
On a Bill of Rights:
Such a course may be strictly lawful, but its practical consequences are likely to be as devastating both for ourselves domestically as it will be for the future of the Convention.
On the international effect of the plans:
It flies in the face of all the good work done internationally by the UK government to promote human rights for so long. I have to say that as a Conservative this pains me. Whatever the challenges the Convention has posed and I accept that there are some proper grounds to criticise its operation, the failure of ambition represented in the Paper and the narrowness of its moral and political vision is very disappointing.
On why the Right should not support the plans:
I believe that those of us in the Party who see the maintenance and promotion of an international system of human rights as being in the national interest and entirely in keeping with a Conservative tradition of freedom under the law, will win that argument for the reasons I have given….but we must not stay silent
A swallow does not make a Spring, but at least there are some within the Conservative Party who are speaking out against the plans. Let’s hope others are listening. In the meantime, well done Mr Grieve.
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- The European Court of Human Rights: anti-democratic or guardian of fundamental values? – Judge Robert Spano
- Kenyan President uses Tory human rights plans to defend war crimes charges
- Tory Plans to Repeal the Human Rights Act: the Legal Community Responds – the Human Rights Roundup
Incoherent, incomplete and disrespectful: The Conservative plans for human rights – Angela Patrick