Is the Human Rights Act a vital safeguard or inherently undemocratic? Two of Britain's finest legal minds go head-to-headby H Kennedy and J Sumption / July 12, 2019 / Leave a comment
Yes—Helena Kennedy: “What have the Romans ever done for us?” is the old Monty Python joke. “What have human rights ever done for us?” might be asked by readers. But our Human Rights Act (HRA) has been a vital tool for justice. The Act has been of huge benefit to many ordinary people—and especially women—as the victims of crime.
The HRA, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), ended detention without trial, the use of torture, arbitrary detention of migrants; the bedroom tax being used against people with disability who need overnight carers. The “right to life” in the HRA was used to secure the reopening of the inquest into the death of Naomi Bryant, who was killed by a serial sex offender released on licence without appropriate supervision.
Meanwhile, the Act was used to expose cruel and inhumane treatment of the elderly in Stafford Hospital, to challenge the failures that resulted in the Rotherham scandal, to reopen the Hillsborough files and secure a new investigation into the suicide of Private Cheryl James in the toxic, “sexualised” atmosphere at Deepcut Barracks.
For these reasons and more I listened to your BBC Reith Lectures on human rights with despair. Your negativity about human rights law was mischievous and unworthy of you. You lent yourself to the most reactionary forces in Britain today.
Attacks on the European Court of Human Rights have become an opportunistic tool for creating hostility to the EU (while the two in fact operate under different legal systems, this doesn’t seem to matter). In addition, our global influence as a nation committed to the rule of law and protection of human rights is undermined when someone of your stature, a former justice of our Supreme Court, propagates such a distorted account.
No—Jonathan Sumption: I do not deny that the HRA has produced some admirable decisions as well as some highly questionable ones. My objection is a different one, namely that it is not a legitimate way of making law in a democracy. This was the point of my Reith Lectures, but you do not address it at all. Perhaps you think that it is unimportant because the ends justify the means. You should not need…