Lord Hoffman is no fool. He is the second most senior law lord in Little Britain, and by all accounts has a razor sharp intellect. But that’s not all we have in common. He is obviously an avid reader of my blog, and in a recent speech, has adopted my swingeing criticisms of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. He puts it more tactfully than I, but in substance he questions the need for a European dimension in English domestic law, and regards the Human Rights Act 1998 as at best unnecessary and at worst downright interfering.
A brief review of the reasons behind the Convention may be apposite. It came into being in 1950, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. All the signatories at the time were Johnnie Foreigners, and all had suffered, in one way or another, as a direct result of the conflict. They had either been occupied by the Master Race, or, like
Contrast all this with Little Britain, where we had enjoyed a sort of human rights from as long ago as 1215, where parliamentary democracy had been a way of life for centuries, and where the common law, supplemented by statute, was the envy of the world. That’s not to say it was all sweetness and light, mistakes were made, but we lived, and still live, under an enlightened rule of law. Johnnie Foreigner had very little to teach us in this regard, and to this very day, I remain astonished that the basic rights and freedoms of a civilised society need to be committed to paper at all. Freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, a ban on inhuman and degrading treatment, to mention but three, should surely be taken as read.
So in 1998, when Tony Blair’s New Labour government enacted the Human Rights Act, it was nothing more than an overt display of their European credentials after a period of indifference under the blessed Saint Margaret of Finchley and her limp wristed successor the totally useless John Minor. If ever there was a case of somebody promoted above his station, this was it.
But this display of European credentials came with a price. We adopted the Convention, warts and all, and virtually overnight, English domestic law found itself subservient to
Leaving aside the fact that on present estimates, there are over 100,000 cases pending for determination, with an average determination time of four years and counting, there are two major flaws in the interpretation of Convention rights. The first is the ‘right’ itself, enshrined in eleven fundamental Articles of varying hues and colours, and approaching any given right from
There are times when Convention rights are taken to the extreme. Two egregious examples will suffice. Inmates of one Scottish prison are being paid compensation for slopping out, as this is in breach of their human rights. In the second case, a man, originally from east of
And so it goes on. Everybody in the legal profession has his favourite. So back to Lord Hoffman. What do Convention rights give to Little Britain that we didn’t enjoy before 1998? Answers on a postcard please.
I hope that the next Conservative government will see the folly of this uneasy and unworkable partnership between English domestic law and European Convention rights. They should repeal the Human Rights Act, and let sanity and common sense prevail.