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New Statesman Readers Slam ‘Insolent Bloody Human Rights Lawyers’ Following ‘Shyster’ Barrister’s Pro-Human Rights Blog

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Yes, that’s New Statesman readers…

1 Crown Office Row barrister Adam Wagner, who also edits the UK Human Rights Blog, has been savaged in the comments section of the New Statesman website for a piece he wrote for the apparently progressive publication…

In the article, headlined ‘What would happen if the UK withdrew from the European Court of Human Rights?’, Wagner busts a number of Euro-myths, pointing out, amongst other things, that “withdrawal from the Strasbourg court is unlikely to make it easier to send foreign criminals back to their home states”.

Rather surprisingly, a host of angry comments ensued.

Paul J got the ball rolling:

“People like Adam Wagner have done more to undermine the popular legitimacy of the welfare state than every rightwing media baron put together. How can normal people be indifferent to wiping out criminal Legal Aid? Because people associate it with terrorists and failed asylum seekers.

“Rightly, perhaps. Likewise every time Abu Qatada pops up on the TV, and we hear how much benefit his dependents are getting, support for welfare drop a bit more. These lawyers are making the UK a more conservative, less progressive place.”

Wading in behind him, Lee Magee added:

“When were people like Adam Wagner locked up without trial for more than 24 hours? It is only since the introduction of the [Human Rights Act] HRA that human rights problems have emerged.”

Others more politely expressed their dislike of the Human Rights Act, before ‘Snorker’ launched a xenophobic rant urging the political class to be “crucified at every election until they bring in laws enabling rapid deportation.”

Finally, Paul J returned to label Wagner a “shystyer” [sic] as part of a wide-ranging attack on the legal profession.

“Something needs to be done to stop these insolent bloody human rights lawyers dictating to rest of us.

“The English radical tradition has spent 3 centuries agitating for a written constitution. Along comes the HRA, and it’s utterly discredited itself in less than a decade. The whole thing has become a racket for shystyers like Adam Wagner, and a mechanism for Judges to grab ever greater chunks political power.

“Judges, and barristers, are overwhelmingly public school educated, old, white, upper middle or upper class men with all the classic assumptions that go along with that profile. Any true lefty who thinks giving these people more power is going to make society a better place is utterly deluding themselves.”

Responding on Twitter, a shell-shocked Wagner wrote: “Little lawyer love in the comments to my reposted New Statesman post on ECHR withdrawal…”

9 Comments

Adam Wagner

Thanks Alex!

There were a few pro-Wagner comments too…

This is an emotive issue and you have to expect a bit of ad hominem attacks – the comments above didn’t address any of the points I made in the 1,500+ word article, of course.

I think there is a serious point lurking somewhere here. One of the points which this Government have made continuously, and successfully, in justifying their very substantial legal reforms has been that the only people who will suffer will be the shyster lawyers, so everybody wins. This line was peddled out on legal aid and Judicial Review reform (the PM called JR a “massive growth industry”).

On human rights reform, judges and lawyers are now attacked constantly on the basis that they have somehow created this self-sustaining money spinner as a conspiracy against common sense and British values.

The reality is that Parliament instituted the JR and human rights system in order to keep a check on its own actions, as well as those of the Executive. That happens in the courts, where judges and lawyers work. Some get paid a lot (certainly by comparison with the average salary), but many get paid very little. JR/human rights/legal aid are hardly the most lucrative areas of law which many of the talented practitioners could have chosen to practise in.

Lawyers and judges are easy targets. Litigation lawyers in particular develop pretty thick skins so don’t cry for us too much. But by far the most important thing is to make sure that the public aren’t being hoodwinked by attacks on easy targets in justification of huge policy changes which will adversely affect everyone else.

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peter

Adam

You don’t address in your NS piece exactly why Britain should be in the ECHR.

Your argument is essentially a defensive one:

“if we withdrew, not much would change because we’re bound up in a tangled web of treaties, and judges would still look to Europe for guidance. So why bother withdrawing when not much would change.”

What you don’t do is argue passionately in favour of European human rights legislation. What do we really get out of this?

Were we not able to manage just fine before 1997. Was the UK a land of savages before these progressive Europeans took over?

By not making a positive case, you cannot be surprised when people rail against you. People will suspect (and they would be right) that this is an industry, you are a beneficiary of it, and you have a vested interest in maintaining this European complexity.

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Alex

Peter
We didn’t join the ECHR in 1997. We joined it immediately after British lawyers drafted it straight after the Second World War. After the horrors revealed by the Nuremburg trials. After the discovery that people were forced to work themselves to death or imprisoned and murdered on the basis of their ethnicity or religion. Human Rights are fundamental and fundamentally British. You should be proud that we have committed ourselves to protecting certain rights no matter how that is. I am.

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Whotooksallmycash4pupillage

The commentators get to the heart of the issue which is that Adam and his human rights compadres at the Bar have taken the system for a ride for far too long.

A Family Barrister attending a routine hearing will now be paid £64 under the 2013 legal aid rates. This includes travel and prep. Many will make a loss on the case.

Adam and his compardres sitting at their fine desks at 1COR are paid £135 p/h (fixed rate for a Junior on a JR case) to think up ridiculous arguments as to why someone’s human rights have been breached or some procedure not followed.

Nearly all JR’s fail. Money is pissed away on Public Law cases by Barristers who are arguably in breach of their duty to the LSC. Look at the ridiculous JR’s undertaken by Public Interest Lawyers or by Barristers at Matrix or elsewhere. Nearly all fail but the LSC picks up the bill.

It would be interesting to see whether these parasites would take on JR’s if they were funded by way of no win, no fee agreements. I doubt it.

The reason why human rights gets such a bad rap in the press is precisely because people like Adam and his ilk write supportive advices for funding to the LSC for cases which have little or no merit. Abu Qatada’s Counsel pissed away public funds whilst enriching themselves pursuing a case totally without merit.

As to the ECHR, why the fuck should Russian judges or Bulgarians impose proportionality on the English Common Law? Leave it to the UKSC or repeal the HRA too.

The Court of Appeal and UKSC are becoming increasingly intolerant of human rights nonsense themselves. See Sumption or Lord Judge’s recent comments.

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Peter

Alex
I agree with all of that. But why do we need judges and courts in other European countries to tell us to adhere to these rights. Are we not capable of administering this in the UK?
Secondly, the likes of Abu Qatada and these daft judicial reviews dreamt up by Matrix and the like were surely not in the mind of the lawyers in the 50s who had witnessed the horrors of war and totalitarianism.
Peter

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Chads

War and totalitarianism still exists, fool. Also, am pretty sure Matrix don’t do ‘daft’.

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Tony

The problem here is not the European Convention on Human Rights. The problem is the manner in which it has been stretched, manipulated and distorted by under-qualified ‘judges’ for over 60 years.

The document itself is just about the greatest single piece of legal drafting that has ever been constructed. No one could read it and take issue with a word. Since its inception, however, it has been completely and utterly bastardised; it has been interpreted in all manner of ridiculous ways, more often than not by ‘judges’ from associated foreign legal systems that could never themselves be said to be sophisticated, fair or remotely democratic, and who for many years were highly politicised.

The result of this is 60 years of case law that has moved further and further away from the original Convention, to the extent that the principles now being applied by the Court (and therefore, by virtue of the Human Rights Act, by the UK Courts) bear almost no relation to that incredible document. To criticise our lawyers and our judges for this is utterly wrong. That is not to say that the lawyers are perfect, but it is their job to fight for their clients within the law. And it is a judge’s job to apply the law as it stands. If our Government insists upon tying both the lawyers and the judges to this bastardised case law then the same Government should not criticise the results. Theresa May, for example, attacked judges for undermining National Security by overruling the Government’s attempts to deport suspected terrorist agitators. I am sure that her comments did what was intended, i.e. shifted the blame. But the buck stops with her Government. I know a number of High Court judges. I have yet to find one who WANTS to overrule deportation on the basis of Human Rights Law. But they have NO CHOICE. They are judges. They are there to implement the law. And until the Government changes that law they have NO CHOICE.

So how is this solved? Well, I see two ways. Firstly there is the ‘Declaration of Incompatibility’. This is an option available to Parliament under the Human Rights Act whereby when implementing legislation – let’s say, for relevance, it is some form of National Security Bill – the Government can effectively say “we know this is in breach of the ECHR but we are pushing ahead anyway”. This option exists. It was a fundamental part of the Human Rights Act. And, at least as far as I am aware, it has NEVER been utilised. Had it been then any legislation following the declaration would NOT be overruled by judges. Unfortunately it also amounts to an effective plea of ‘guilty’ before the Court itself once all domestic options have been exhausted (such a declaration is only protection in the domestic courts as there is no parallel doctrine in the European system) and so it is effectively flawed as long as we retain membership of the ECHR.

The alternative, then, is to leave the ECHR, and this seems to me to be the most sensible option. But only if done right. There is no need to lose the fundamental protections that the Convention provides. Instead, we just incorporate the Convention in exactly its original form into domestic law and effectively start from scratch; i.e. have no adherence to the 60 years of case law. If we were to do this we would enjoy the protection that the Convention provides – protections that were drafted by a generation of British lawyers, that are 100% justified and desirable, and which in the most part come with lists of exceptions and qualifications which would allow our judges to choose, for example, National Security over the fact that someone with designs to terrorise our country happens to have a wife here – whilst freeing our judiciary from the shackles of the decisions of foreign judges that have so distorted that wonderful document.

In summary, there ARE options and there is complete justification in leaving the ECHR provided we incorporate the fundamental principles from the original Convention into our domestic law. It would not be a step back. It would not reflect badly upon the UK. Indeed, our adherence to the Convention historically goes above and beyond that of any other European State. This is demonstrated by the following: up to the 1990’s the country with by far the worst record before the court was the UK, which was a damning fact UNTIL one realised that this was because at that stage the UK was one of the few nations to allow individual petition; i.e. its citizens could take it to court. Most other countries did not allow this and so the UK was being hauled over the coals for some – admittedly questionable – treatment of prisoners by judges from countries in which regular beating of prisoners was the norm!! The UK has therefore ‘done its time’ in the ECHR to a far greater degree than any other member state. It could therefore not be criticised for now going a different route, provided, of course, that the fundamental protections are maintained.

Having said all of this, the problem is Government. Will they stop unfairly criticising judges whose hands they have tied and instead grant them some freedom? Or will it be easier to maintain the status quo and continue to dishonestly blame those very judges for doing nothing more than their jobs in the conditions forced upon them?

I won’t be holding my breath…

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Bobby Walker

Totally agree!

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rebecca olesen

If Britain was so committed to protecting human rights why does it import so many people who promulgate for the deaths of people based on their religion and ethnicity? What about the rights of non muslims to live in without fear?

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