'The proposals represent a failure of ambition by the Conservative Party on the global promotion of human rights'by Dominic Grieve / October 10, 2014 / Leave a comment
The publication last week of the Conservative Party’s proposals for changing Britain’s human rights laws, euphemistically entitled “Protecting Human Rights in the UK”, has attracted support from those sections of the press and Party fixated on the view that we are constrained by our adherence to the European Court of Human Rights, and our incorporation of it into our own law.
As a Conservative, proud of our country’s record on human rights, I believe this view is misplaced. These proposals threaten to create domestic constitutional difficulties and to undermine our international reputation and influence for entirely illusory benefits.
The ECHR was established by the European Convention of Human Rights in 1959. Although described as “rights,” the Convention encapsulates fundamental “liberties” such as entitlement to a fair trial, and freedom from punishment or sanction without due process of law (Articles 5 and 6), which come directly from the Magna Carta. Freedom from torture (Article 3) has been ours since at least 1640. Unfortunately, there are many historic examples of these liberties not always being upheld here. One of the great achievements of both the Convention and the Human Rights Act (1998) has been to make those liberties more accessible.
In promoting the Convention and adhering to it, we have followed a long tradition that has seen our national self-interest bound up in promoting international order. Since 1815, we have signed over 13,000 treaties of which 800 contain mechanisms to resolve alleged violations. Each one acts as a “constraint” on our freedom of action as a nation. But the benefits of setting international standards have traditionally been seen to outweigh any diminution in sovereign autonomy.
There are now 47 member states contracted to uphold the Convention, of which many have poor records on human rights and continue to face problems. The decisions of the Court of Human Rights regularly centre on these states. They often relate to violations of basic rights, such as being beaten up in police cells, being denied access to a lawyer, trial processes that are obviously unfair and discrimination against vulnerable groups. They are rarely reported in our media. But in almost all cases the judgments are implemented and damages paid when awarded by the countries concerned. It has made the Convention…