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Campaigners at war over Human Rights Act petition

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Online bid to force a referendum has picked up nearly 200,000 signatures, but the experts reckon it’s counterproductive

Lead

In their most hopeful dreams, Prime Minister David Cameron and his new Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, probably couldn’t have expected human rights campaigners to fall out amongst themselves quite so quickly. But never underestimate the ability of those on the left to tear each other’s throats out.

Yesterday’s case in point came in the form of a petition posted by a Marc Chudley that called on the recently elected Conservative government to hold a referendum on its proposed “abolition of the Human Rights Act”.

Lead

The petition — which is knocking on 200,000 signatures — goes on to say that the rights stipulated in the legislation “are ours to protect or to give away.” It continues:

“The government believes that a majority of 12 seats, a 37% share of the vote and with just 25% of the electorate voting for the Conservatives, that this somehow gives them a mandate to remove these fundamental rights that protect us all.

“We disagree. With such an important change to our rights and our freedoms, this should be a matter decided by the people in a national referendum.”

But not everyone engaged in the human rights debate is on board, as demonstrated by Twitter reaction to the petition.

Leading the criticism of people power against plans to abolish the act was London barrister Adam Wagner. The general civil and public law specialist at One Crown Office Row chambers in the Temple lambasted the petition as being “misguided”. In a fusillade of tweets, he described it as an “unhelpful misstep”.

Wagner — who recently launched his own human rights website, Rightsinfo.com – suggested that the petition organisers had misunderstood the government’s proposals, claiming that ministers want to scrap all human rights, which is wide of the mark.

That mistake, said Wagner and his supporters, would provide the government with a simple route to dismissing the petition as being factually inaccurate.

Indeed, other commentators have pointed out that David Cameron’s plans to replace the existing legislation with a home grown bill of rights is likely to amount to little more than expensive bluster.

The bill of rights, they maintain, would more or less replicate the existing articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, while making the UK Supreme Court the final arbiter instead of the current Strasbourg judges.

In his post-general election blog on Rightsinfo, Wagner maintained the Tory majority would trigger “an interesting, difficult and transformative period for human rights in the UK”.

He went on to set out his formula for saving the day:

“We need to be positive. And start from the beginning. We need to address the legitimate questions which many people have. What are human rights? Where do they come from? Why do they matter? What have they done for us and not just to the nasty people you read about in the newspapers? What have been the big wins for human rights in the UK? What about prisoner votes, Abu Qatada, and that cat? We need to tell the good stories about human rights and be honest about the bad ones.”

38 Comments

Not Amused

I think expecting lefties to turn and eat each other is exactly what we do anticipate. Only Blair managed to keep these frothing loonies under control. Without him they have had a collective melt down.

This is troublesome because the country does need an opposition party …

(16)(68)

Anonymous

dear LC, sort it out. its not only “lefties” that care about human rights.

(26)(4)

Not Amused

Which is why the Tories are seeking to reform the HRA – not destroy the world

(6)(19)

Anonymous

im not against reform, if there is a cogent and sensible reason behind it.

there isnt. I havent seen one presentation of a case for reform of the HRA which doesnt just dissolve into a generalised, and incorrect, assertion that we are surrendering to the whims of european judges with the implication that they are less qualified, or their judgements are somehow less correct.

its entirely untrue to say that our Supreme court is not supreme and that the HRA is the bastion of all those seeking to break other laws.

give me a reasoned argument, with evidence, aside from the occasional case, to point towards the need to change the HRA and assess for me the cost/benefit of leaving the Council of Europe which will inevitably happen and then we’ll think again

(27)(3)

Not Amused

I’m not sure how attractive you have made yourself as someone to discuss this issue with.

You just state, categorically, that the fact that foreign, non-elected people are controlling our law is ‘incorrect’. You state that the fact that there might be genuine concerns about certain country’s ability to provide capable judges is ‘incorrect’.

But it is true that the judges are not elected and not from the UK. It is legitimate for you to say “I like that” but not legitimate for you to say “that isn’t true”. I think, as I have said before, that you only like the lack of democracy and foreign control because these judges currently agree with your own personal political views. I think that is naïve – because there is absolutely nothing to stop those same judges changing their political beliefs and then you would be screwed.

It is true to say that countries with really small populations, who are only recent or embryonic democracies (or in one case a dictatorship), who do not have high levels of expenditure on education (or a good record of results), who do have problems with corruption and who simply do not have the resources to produce someone like Jonathan Sumption – are a concern. I do not think you would dispute that it is *unlikely* that a tiny, corrupt and poor nation would produce world class athletes. But instead you just state categorically that their judges are brill – I think that is an odd position.

You then say “give me a reasoned argument, with evidence, aside from the occasional case”. So … errr … You want me to provide evidence that is not the case law? I think you are pretending to want evidence, your whole demeanour is one of a closed mind.

All I am saying is: could we please wait for the Tory plans *before* we say crazy things? The plans might well be crap – if they are then let’s sa that when we have proof: but stop assuming or guessing they are. Strasbourg is an incredibly difficult proposition to defend. It is ironic that there is talk of a referendum: because if the British people were asked “do you want foreign, unelected judges, who you cannot control, influence or sack, who are not as well educated as your own judges, who are often politicised, who do not come from the same legal tradition as your country, who do not necessarily understand your country; do you want these people to be able to override your will following an election?” then I think most people would vote no.

I see no benefits to membership of the council besides granting certain human rights lawyers fame and money. Strasbourg is so procedurally crap that it is not a *real* court – it is not in any way shape or form accessible to the ordinary man. It is a show court of politicised judges: a place where people of one political ideology can enforce their views on the government and the people regardless of what an election result actually says.

(2)(6)

Anonymous

i assure you NA, you are not at all attractive to discuss with

frankly, who has the time?

my central point was that the case for reform was ill-founded. but yet, we don’t yet know the full extent of the proposed reforms. However, any reform has serious implications which cannot be ignored and should be thought out carefully.

my reference to case law was that I do not find one or two cases, which the Cons have provided, to be sufficient to warrant an entire re-write of fundamental legislation. especially given the implications.

Im afraid NA you seem to be missing that the question of “why” needs to be asked twice. Firstly, “why” even consider making reforms. That question has not yet been answered. Only when that is answered, in my view, do you expend time and resources considering the “what”. When you are at the “what” stage each “what” also has a secondary “why”.

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Not Amused

Well, you have ignored the answer “because the country voted by majority in 2010 in favour of a manifesto containing that promise and by majority great enough to form a government in 2015 for a manifesto containing that promise”.

You have decided to ignore 1) the bad case law; 2) the fundamental problem with the judges; 3) the fundamental procedural failings of the court, and 4) the lack of democracy or national sovereignty.

I just don’t think you’re terribly interested in democracy and I’m afraid I think that the reason for that is that currently you perceive Strasbourg as being in agreement with your own personal political views. So I really think I am entitled to call you both naïve and selfish.

(2)(7)

Anonymous

im sorry to say NA that you are a jack of all trades and a master of bullshit.

i havent ignored those issues at all, but i have raised perfectly valid questions you refuse to deal with

im not interested in discussing with a condescending, arrogant prig. i wonder if your own jealousy of the lawyers who have become eminent is afflicting your ability to look at this sensibly.

I am no fan of strasbourg. but you are misdirecting yourself, and anyone who can be bothered with your extended drivel, in this position to conclude that if you dislike strasbourg you must support the reforms of the HRA. That is simply not right.

(7)(1)

Not Amused

If the Tory party says “we’d like to reform the HRA because we don’t like Strasbourg” and then I say “these are the things wrong with Strasbourg” and then the country says “I would like a Conservative Government to do what it has promised to do”; then I don’t really understand how you have an argument that no one has told you why this is going to happen.

I’m sorry you are upset.

(1)(6)

Anonymous

@Not Amused

Dude, you need to get past this. Yes, you and Sumption had a beautiful thing once. But it’s over now. You need to move on. Obsessing over him like this isn’t going to do you any good…

(8)(0)

Not Amused

He left me for his hair 🙁

(0)(4)

Anonymous

NA – my point is not that there has been no explanation of “why” the reforms. My point is that the reasoning doesn’t stack up. That’s all.

i accept that a democratic vote has supported the mandate. That’s not the issue. Im not challenging democracy. What Im challenging is the stated “need” to reform. I just dont see that there is a need.

Saying this does not make me naive. nor does it mean that i am refusing to accept the functions of democracy.

i agree that making over-zealous comments at this stage is harmful and will not help the situation. However, if there is to be a serious debate about the reform we cannot simply wait for the proposed changes to land on desks before we start taking a close look. the whole motivation needs assessing too.

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Not Amused

Well, ok. But we probably won’t know why until the Tory party speaks and other than page 73 of the manifesto, we haven’t had much.

That has not however stopped daily articles by committed lefties saying “this is the end of the world” in a variety of ways. Given that in order to say that the Lefties also have to say “the UK should stay with Strasbourg”, I just wanted to highlight how silly those articles were.

I really don’t ‘get’ what we are supposed to get out of Strasbourg. If you are a dubious little nation with an appalling track record on human rights, or a large dictatorship with an appalling record on human rights then I can see the benefit. You get to say (and they do) that they are committed to human rights (which they are not) because they signed up.

I think we have an excellent record on HR and that the Supreme Court can be and should be the final say. Here, rarely for me, I disagree with Grieve – because far from sending a ‘bad’ message, I think we will send a good message of “we are committed to fundamental rights, you are a disgrace of a court and we no longer wish to legitimise dubious nations by remaining affiliated with this crap-fest”.

(0)(2)

Anonymous

NA – you say “we haven’t had much other than p.73 of the manifesto”, and yet:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/03_10_14_humanrights.pdf

Are you saying that the above has no value in assessing where the Tories may be going with these proposals, or have you simply not read it?

(1)(0)

Not Amused

I was aware of it, I hadn’t read it, thank you for linking to it. I still think all the lefties will write articles saying crazy stuff – but I skimmed it and I can’t see how I would disagree if the eventual proposals mirror that document.

I really can’t stress this enough – I’m not a massive Strasbourg fan 🙂

(0)(0)

The Bar Necessities

We can’t exactly gripe about the quality of judges in the ECtHR—as far as I can work out Paul Mahoney isn’t qualified to sit as a Deputy District Judge. Again, feel free to complain about the bureaucrats, but that’s a hypocritical position given our guy is a lifelong bureaucrat.

A plaintive ‘they’re unelected’ is unattractive as an argument. So are judges in this country. The sauce that is good for the goose is good for the gander.

The manifesto argument is poor because the legislative plan is (and always was) inchoate and incomprehensible. The rhetoric is largely focused on the results, not the process, and the HRA is inherently a procedural statute. The Tory mandate in respect of the HRA is, at best, unclear.

It is not immediately obvious to me which provisions of the HRA would be repealed to make law from Conservative rhetoric. There’s an argument that the courts have given too much weight to the need to ‘take into account’—although Horncastle may represent the beginning of the end of the tendency to follow all Strasbourg decisions.

I assume s6 is deeply unattractive to governments of all stripes, but that’s probably the best reason for retaining it. The practical impact of s3 is limited by authorities such as Re S and Ghaidan, and nobody seems to be awfully bothered by s4 these days. I have to admit I’m half anticipating they will substantially re-enact the HRA but with some slightly obtuse wording about the UKSC giving less heed to Strasbourg, possibly try to get more power to remove & deport people, declare that prisoners not voting is perfectly fine, slap a ‘British Bill of Rights’ label on it and wrap it up in the Union Jack.

The Tories get their big front page splash and everyone carries on broadly as before. Simples…?

(1)(0)

Not Amused

“We can’t exactly gripe about the quality of judges in the ECtHR—as far as I can work out Paul Mahoney isn’t qualified to sit as a Deputy District Judge”

Sorry. I think you have wrongly assumed that because I dislike the Strasbourg Court that I am some sort of racist. I can very very easily criticise all of the Strasbourg Judges. The fact that the UK Strasbourg Judge is (in your eyes) also crap, does not detract from my argument. I am not seeking to criticise the Strasbourg judges and yet defend the UK judge. I am saying that the whole court is irredeemably flawed.

The rest of what you say can easily be met by my actual argument – “wait and see what the actual proposals are”

FYI our unelected judiciary are still subject to democratic controls. The Lord Chancellor can sack Judges. That’s by custom a position held by a member of the government. We have regulatory bodies which discipline and control judges – see the 4 sods sacked for watching porn.

The Strasbourg unelected judges are subject to no one.

(0)(0)

Not Very Amused

Drone drone aren’t I clever drone drone.

I know it all drone drone.

Drone drone resident poster drone drone.

You don’t know what you are talking about drone drone.

(69)(4)

Smilla's Sense of Shame

I can see his argument, and it is valid – you can’t win arguing a strawman. However, this is to presume you’re arguing a reasonable and rational human being, not a frothing ideologue intent on creating an under-race of jingoistic zombies.

(0)(1)

anon

*mind blown* If what you say is true, then you are wrong. Its like the man who tells you he always lies!

(4)(0)

Simon Myerson

It’s the incoherence of the proposal that drives me mad. ‘It won’t change anything’ – ‘so why do it?’ ‘It will reduce the power of Strasbourg’ – ‘so what power is that and how will it be reduced?’ ‘It won’t change anything.’

Next:

‘We want our court to be supreme’ – ‘but they are’ . ‘We don’t want our courts to have to implement European law’ – ‘as far as human rights go they don’t have to’. ‘We want our courts to be supreme’.

The petition isn’t one I would sign because it overstates the case and – whatever NA says 😉 – that’s bad advocacy. Keir Starmer has just made the same mistake, which isn’t s surprise either.

(4)(1)

Not Amused

Which is why we have to wait to see the plans. I’ve been surprisingly moderate this time, for me 🙂

(1)(5)

Irn Pru

They can’t have it both ways. Either it doesn’t change anything, in which case, why bother, or it does, so let’s hear what you want to change?

The manifesto promise was simply to scrap the HRA which would do nothing to address the Tories’ actual problem which is the interpretations of the Strasbourg judges. In order to do that, we’d have to leave the convention itself.

The problem, however, if we do leave completely and make the Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter, is that we have no protected legislation, and no proper separation of powers. So if the Govt doesn’t like the rulings of the SC, it just legislates to change them.

Human Rights are mainly protection against the state. So, you’re protected from the Govt as long as the same people who make up the Govt, sitting in the Houses of Parliament commanding the majority that makes them the Govt in the first place, allow you to be.

Or, we keep Strasbourg but bin the HRA and this whole lot is a waste of everyone’s time and money, like it used to be.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Another smug, know it all response from Myerson.

(4)(1)

Simon Myerson

Ta. Whoever you are.

(1)(1)

Jasperlaw

Little matter of the Good Friday Agreement that ended the war in the North of Ireland, the enactment of the ECHR was part of that agreement. Where is this Bill of Rights by the way they have waffled enough about it, maybe Gove is busy writing it, he was a journalist at one stage.

(0)(0)

Not Amused

Well the traditional order would be to wait for the Queen’s Speech and then scrutinise the proposals. It’s not immediately clear why anything should change just because a bunch of hysterical lefties are having a toddler tantrum over losing the election.

Politically Gove would be wise now to delay. Because every day we get an increasingly unhinged diatribe from the left in the press. By the time to no doubt incredibly boring detail is actually released these people will have either: a) died of a stress induced heart attack, or b) written so much crazy stuff that they have completely discredited themselves in the eyes of the public.

I am not alone in the world when I notice that there is a tendency by some in the left to instantly demonise a policy just because it is a Tory policy. A tendency to hysterically over react. To believe that somehow all sorts of hate are wrong: except hate of Tories. To fail to understand that I was not born a Tory or developed in a lab; but that I have seen this visceral hated and childish polarisation all my life and that I find it so viscerally unattractive that I simply cannot vote Labour even when I disagree with a lot of Tory policy (which from time to time I do, and which I type about here).

(0)(2)

Ollie Trumpington

Northern Ireland

(2)(0)

VTESI

I think what Wagner and others have missed is the bleeding obvious – most people do NOT want to have a debate about our human rights, because as far as they are concerned it is a non issue which won’t really affect them either way. These people are too busy working 3 jobs, most of which are on a zero hours contract.

WE are having this debate because we know that it’s important but if we do NOT engage properly with the general public, we are going to get mauled and there won’t be many human rights left to defend. This is the same thing with the lack of bar’s discussion with the public on legal aid – when you don’t take the people with you on such issues, issues which matter to the public if they were aware of it, you lose. The petition is a good idea.

(0)(0)

The Great Gonzo

I’m just here for the emoticons. Voila:

🙂
:*
:>
:<
🙁
:/
;(
😉
:{
:}
😐

(13)(0)

Anonymous

Re objecting to this petition, yet more proof that brainbox, humourless, technocratic lawyers just don’t get it sometimes.

FAOD this isn’t all lawyers, just a lot of them. Some of the more imaginative and practical ones stay in the profession, others leave and go into business or become MPs.

The petition is great. It raises awareness and challenges perceptions. That’s 90% of the battle in politics.

But no, let’s slag off the petition with some irrelevant technical points. It’s like the teachers pet in school putting his hand up earnestly, pointing out how wrong his class mates are and how wonderful teacher is.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Ps I’ve just signed the petition to stick two fingers up to the objectors. And I’m a lawyer. And many of my cases involve HRA.

(5)(2)

Not Amused

A nationwide referendum on human rights would not produce more than 20% in favour. I doubt you could get a majority in favour if you restricted voters to members of the Labour party alone.

I’m not saying that is a good thing. I’m saying that of all the lunatic things the metropolitan left think are an appropriate reaction to losing a general election – calling for a referendum which you cannot possibly win, has to be the maddest.

(0)(5)

Anonymous

You are missing the point. There wont be a referendum on it in a million years. The petition kicks up a stink, gains publicity, and raises awareness.

(2)(0)

Not Amused

“It raises awareness!” really has become the self identifying clarion call of the loony.

(0)(5)

Anonymous

take your tongue out of the Tory ass for just one minute mate, seriously.

(5)(1)

Juan Pertayta

Another subject about which lawyers get very excited, expect the rest of the population to share their indignation, and then are baffled when the general reaction is indifference.

I think people are instinctively more trusting of protective common law principles than abstract convention rights. There was more public disquiet about the Mode of Trial Bill than there will ever be about abolition or amendment of the HRA.

(2)(0)

Not Amused

Hey! HEY! Less of this. Can we please not say “subject about which lawyers get very excited” and instead admit that it is mostly the rich-born, privately educated children of the wealthy, who are also lawyers, who say this stuff?

And before anyone says “but NA surely you are OK now?”. Can I just say that I want kids who are born poor today to grow up into a world where they can be affluent? Can I say that I can sum up the problem with the argument “the Labour party are the party of the poor” in two words: Tristram Hunt.

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