Friday, August 26, 2011

I agree with Nick on human rights (but he's wrong to blame Labour)

Read this with interest today, I agree that Nick Clegg is right to defend the human rights act and I agree with his rejection of of the frothy-mouthed tabloid furore every time it is mentioned. It is undeniably a massively important thing and one this country has embraced throughout our history. It is a convenient rabble-rouser for the empty vessel media to get riled about, find any outlying example and report on it as an example of the norm. It's similar to that other favourite spurious anger raiser: Health & Safety. I work with a Health & Safety specialist and let me assure you Health & Safety has not "Gone mad" (Neither has political correctness for that matter) but if you can find on outlandish example in some insignificant backwater than that's your "journalism" done for the say...

...and if you can lump Europe with it all the better. Remember that episode of QI where Stephen Fry debunked the health & safety, human-rights, political correctness, European parliament myths.

Chris Grayling was on the radio earlier this week pledging to try and cut through the mire and myth about health & safety but a rejection of the concept to score cheap political capital is definitely not the way forward.

So anyway while I agree with Nick *shudder* I do disagree with his fairly faint praise of Labour for passing the bill in the first place. Just another example of the whole dismissing of Labour's achievements in favour of a dissection of the bills looking for any negativity (A bit rich when you consider utterly ill thought-out policies such as tuition fees with £9k exceptional circumstances or the NHS Reform currently quivering in the long grass hoping everyone forgets it exists)

He is also fairly mean to single out Jack Straw as an opponent of Human Rights whilst linking to an article where he says basically the same as David Cameron is. Anyway here is an extract from the article :

The Labour government that passed the Human Rights Act then spent years trashing it, allowing a myth to take root that human rights are a foreign invention, unwanted here, a charter for greedy lawyers and meddlesome bureaucrats.

This myth panders to a view that no rights, not even the most basic, come without responsibilities; that criminals ought to forfeit their very humanity the moment they step out of line; and that the punishment of lawbreakers ought not to be restrained by due process.

The reality is that those who need to make use of human rights laws to challenge the decisions of the authorities are nearly always people who are in the care of the state: children's homes, mental hospitals, immigration detention, residential care. They are often vulnerable, powerless, or outsiders, and are sometimes people for whom the public feels little sympathy. But they are human beings, and our common humanity dictates that we treat them as such.

There is, of course, a sensible discussion to be had about the details of how the act operates. In November the UK takes over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe, and the government wants to take the opportunity to advance the reform of the European court of human rights, for example to improve the timeliness and consistency of its decision-making. At home, the government has set up a commission to investigate the case for establishing a UK bill of rights. It has long been my party's policy to use a bill of rights to deepen our commitment to the protections of the Human Rights Act, and also to protect other British liberties, such as the right to jury trial.

But the biggest problem with the Human Rights Act is not how it operates in the courts, nor how it interacts with other rights. It is how it is manipulated not just by the media but by overcautious officials. It was, for example, of no help to anyone when police spokespeople blamed human rights for a decision to deliver a KFC meal to a fugitive on a roof: this had nothing to do with the Human Rights act. There is no human right to fried chicken.

So, as Cameron has said, we need to "get a grip on the misrepresentation of human rights". Too many people have succumbed to a culture of legal paranoia where common sense decisions are questioned – not by the courts, but by overcautious lawyers and officials. This creates an ever-worsening cycle: the more we perpetuate the myth that, in the words of Jack Straw, human rights are a "villains' charter", the more those dealing with lawbreakers curtail their behaviour because of a general sense that rights trump common sense. The friends of human rights have the most to gain if we get a grip on this. We must give public officials back the confidence that reasonable decisions taken in the public interest will be defended by the courts – as they usually are when they actually reach the courts.

Court judgments themselves tend to tell a very different story about our rights culture than tabloid papers. The Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights have been instrumental in preventing local authorities from snooping on law-abiding families, in removing innocent people from the national DNA database, in preventing rapists from cross-examining their victims in court, in defending the rights of parents to have a say in the medical treatment of their children, in holding local authorities to account where they have failed to protect children from abuse, in protecting the anonymity of journalists' sources, and in upholding the rights of elderly married couples to be cared for together in care homes.

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