19 June 2014
Two fascinating speeches to recommend.
Lord Phillips, former Supreme Court President, gave a thoughtful speech at Kings College on whether human rights are a “force for good or a threat to democracy”. He expressed quite significant concerns over some recent Strasbourg decisions on jurisdiction, prisoner votes etc. (you know the drill – see Rosalind’s post on the other senior judges/former judges speaking their minds).
The conclusion he reaches, on balance but also with “no hesitation” is that “Europe needs the Convention and Europe needs the Court. … Strasbourg is a powerful force for good.”
I really must do a chart of the senior judiciary and ex-judiciary’s positions on Strasbourg. They are falling over themselves to express a view.
Meanwhile, over at the Law Society of Ireland, Lady Hale gave a speech on Freedom of Religion and Belief, which readers will know is one of this blog’s pet topics (see our other posts on religion).
9 June 2010
Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the head of the UK Supreme Court, has responded to accusations that the Human Rights Act is hampering the fight against terrorism, and that “respect for human rights is a key weapon in the ideological battle”.
With reports this morning that the Government has written to High Court judges encouraging then not to delay a deportation flight to Bagdad, the speech presents a well timed defence of judicial independence.
The Gresham Special Lecture: The Challenges of the new Supreme Court is available in text and audio format. Lord Phillips used the opportunity to defend the judiciary in light of their regular use of the Human Rights Act to limit the effects of the anti-terrorism laws enacted by the government in the past decade, including controversial measures such as control orders and the Special Immigration Appeal Commission (SIAC). He said:
After 9/11 the British Government decided that the threat of terrorism in Britain was such as to amount to a public emergency threatening the life of the nation and purported, on that ground, to derogate from the Convention.
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23 April 2010
Lord Phillips, the head of the Supreme Court, spoke to lawyers this week on the future of the Human Rights Act 1998, which the Conservative Party have threatened to repeal. He said that now that the Act is in place, it would be very difficult to imagine a court ignoring the rights enshrined by it, even if it were repealed.
We will post the full speech if and when it becomes available. In the mean time, Afua Hirsch writing in the Guardian summarises his argument (reproduced after the page break below).
On a second-hand reading, it does seem somewhat hopeful to assume, as Lord Phillips appears to, that if the Act were repealed courts would still place rights in anything like the central position they have been since the its passing, largely through momentum. Lawyers tend to concentrate on points which win cases, rather than on first principles, and whilst human rights were a relevant consideration before the Act’s passing (judgments of the European Court of Human Rights were persuasive but not binding), they amounted to little more that.
That said, the Conservative party have pledged to replace the Act with something similar, a Bill of Rights. It is not yet clear what form it will take, but it is highly likely that the European Convention on Human Rights will be the starting point for its drafting, and it is likely to be a recalibration rather than a replacement. As such, human rights are most probably “here to stay”, but we should not overestimate the constitutional power of judges, or underestimate the power of Parliament to set the legal agenda.
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