BILL OF RIGHTS

The word on the street has it that Liz Truss, the newly anointed Secretary of State for Justice and the Lord High Chancellor, has been advised to breathe new life into devising a Bill of Rights.  She told anybody who was listening that it was a manifesto pledge, as if that counted for anything, so it’s back on her agenda.  Question for you all – how many of you voted Conservative at the last General Election because a Bill of Rights was a manifesto pledge?  Yes, I thought so.

Others have flirted with the idea, most recently Oiky Gove, but then, with the whiff of high office in his nostrils, albeit fleetingly, he fell flat on his face and he and the Bill of Rights bit the dust.

The latest thinking along the corridors of power is that a new Bill of Rights should be a mirror image of the European Convention on Human Rights, which was incorporated into British law in 1997 with the Human Rights Act.  The reasoning behind this decision, if ‘reasoning’ is not an over-statement, is that Parliament would not agree to do otherwise.  Call me naive if you will, but doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of a new Bill of Rights?  If we are lumbered with a Convention on Human Rights devised by Germany and France to ensure they never went to war again, then by retaining the Human Rights Act, we are burnishing our European credentials just when we thought we had dumped them for good.  All very confusing, the more so for Liz Truss, who has no legal training, doesn’t know her mens rea from her actus reus, and who will be relying entirely on her civil servants. ‘Yes Minister’ strikes again!

When she appeared recently before the Commons Justice Select Committee, she was asked bluntly by one of its members what the point was of scrapping the Human Rights Act but staying signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights.  Truss replied: “We were members of the convention long before the Human Rights Act.  The Human Rights Act is a fairly recent phenomenon.  What the British Bill of Rights will do is protect our rights but in a better way.”  But surely, Ms Truss, the Human Rights Act enacted the European Convention into English law, the two go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other, so if you abolish the Human Rights Act, where does that leave the Convention? Her enigmatic reply? “There are big problems with the Human Rights Act that are nothing to do with the convention – problems have only emerged since the Human Rights Act came in.  We are still working on it and I don’t have details about the proposal.”  Quite so.  If for one am none the wiser.

For some time now, judges at the highest levels of the judiciary have argued that the Convention should be acknowledged where it is helpful to do so, and that the decisions of the European Courts should be duly noted, but they should not be binding on English Law.  In this way, our Supreme Court is what it actually claims to be, namely Supreme, so if our Supreme Court does not agree with its European counterparts, it will not follow its judgments, and will say so.

I may not agree with everything the Supreme Court has to say, and in this regard, I remember their pathetic judgement in the banks’ overcharging case, but that said they get it right most of the time, and if they don’t, we can set the Daily Mail on them, and if that doesn’t work, there is always the robust presence of Lord Falkner to put the fear of God into them.

There are many other more pressing matters in her in-tray to occupy Ms. Truss, whose learning curve is almost vertiginous.  Prison reform should be her first priority before there is a serious breakdown of law and order.  Then there’s the equally ludicrous inquiry into historical sexual abuse, but don’t get me started.  That’s worth a blog to itself.

This blog is dedicated to Alexa, the beautiful daughter of our very dear friends, who recently got married.  I wish her and her husband Paul every future happiness.

 

THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW

The countdown has begun.  Three weeks to go before ‘R’ day.  But what happens after that?  It doesn’t matter who ‘wins’, but after the vote, both sides have to pick up the pieces and try to put them back together again.  More important still, they will have to work together as colleagues, sometimes being responsible for policies they had just finished rubbishing.

My particular concern is the malign influence of the European Courts over our domestic law, and the near impossibility to do anything about it whilst we remain members of the EU. Some of you may have heard the interview on the Today programme with Sir Francis Jacobs, a former advocate general at the European Court of Justice.  He told listeners: “If there were 28 member states each taking a different view of what European Union law should mean, then it would be impossible for the European Union to function.  So it does require that Union law should be recognised as prevailing over national law.”

Asked if he believed those who wished British law to be sovereign should vote to leave the European Union, he said: “I think that is right, yes there is certainly no alternative to the view that European Union law must prevail over national law.”  And of course the same applies to the Court of Human Rights.

Like it or not, the reality is that the European Courts have supremacy over all national courts, otherwise, as Sir Francis said, it would be impossible for the EU to function.  This means that national idiosyncrasies must be ignored.  It also means that what suits your average Albanian car washer or Polish plumber may not suit us, but in a word: ‘tough!’

There was talk about a British Bill of Rights, rather like the Magna Carta, to replace the jurisdiction of the European Courts, but then, as has been made abundantly clear, you’re either in the club and bound by its membership rules, or you’re out.  There’s no half way house, and to suggest otherwise is to perpetuate the myth.  It is disingenuous, or almost intellectually dishonest, for David Cameron to suggest that we are, or can become, the masters of our own destiny, when quite clearly we are not.

My position remains unchanged.  I repeat, for the avoidance of doubt, that the European Courts hold no sway with me.  They seem to be a self perpetuating group of chancers who see the EU as a gravy train, where they can make up their own rules as they go along, and where there is nobody who can prick their bubble.

I lost faith in the European Courts when some convicted Jamaican ‘yardee’ could not be deported simply because he had adopted and cared for a cat! And I have lost count of the number of times that an illegal immigrant has earned the right to stay in the United Kingdom because he has fathered a child, poor little mite, regardless of the relationship he has ‘enjoyed’ with the mother.  And so it goes on.

Understandably, immigration remains a burning issue, and the fact that there are more Syrians trudging around the margins of Europe than in Syria itself is a humanitarian catastrophe, but it needs to be resolved in Syria.  Put bluntly, it is not the responsibility of Europe to house them when there are other ways.

In broad terms I admire Michael Gove, and he may well be the next Prime Minister. But he would only retain my respect and support if he accepted that a Bill of Rights isn’t worth the paper, or vellum, it’s written on, if we remain in the EU.  It’s a worthless document, unless we adopt the approach of the Italians, which is if they don’t like a particular piece of legislation, or a ruling, emanating from the European Courts, they simply ignore it.  Viva Italia!  And with Rome the centre of civilisation for centuries, whom I am to argue?  The Eternal City.

I remain wholly unpersuaded by the doom and gloom predictions of the Remain Camp.  In truth, they are an insult to our intelligence.  So I shall vote to leave, and let the Devil take the hindmost.

David Osborne is the author of three humorous books on the Law.  His latest, entitled Order in Court, is now available in all reputable bookstores and on Amazon.

order-in-court1

I’M BACK

I’m sure you missed me!  After a well earned break in the sun, I’m back in the saddle, ready to wield the hammer of the ungodly and hold high the sword of justice!

We left these shivering shores shortly after the General Election, well pleased with the result, and as we were in foreign climes surrounded by jabbering Johnny foreigners, our news of Old Blighty came from a glance at the front page of the Daily Mail, stacked unloved and unsold in the corner of our favourite bistro. With the greatest respect to all who buy this particular tabloid, it really is utter tosh!  At least the Sun has tits to liven up its take on the news, and makes no pretence to be anything other than tits and sport.  The Daily Mail likes to think it’s a serious rag, but it fails miserably.

Speaking of Johnny Foreigner, the only news I seem to have missed, and it interests me professionally, is the forthcoming debate on human rights and which, by all accounts, is beginning to hot up.  All the usual suspects have crawled out from under their ‘special interest’ rocks to preach doom and gloom and the end of civilisation as they see it. Amnesty International has even used its precious resources to take out a two page advertisement accompanied by signatures of their most virulent supporters, none of whom means anything to me.

Those opposing the abolition of the Human Rights Act clearly haven’t thought it through. The inference they draw is that we will abolish all human rights, which is absurd.  I prefer the words of wisdom uttered by Lord Judge in a recent speech to the Hay Festival under the headline: “Don’t let European Courts run our lives.” He goes on to make the obvious point (or obvious to me at least) that we in this country have enjoyed an enviable record of human rights going back to 1215 and the Magna Carta, and there is nothing Johnny Foreigner can teach us in this respect.  We simply do not need a court stuck in Strasbourg with poorly qualified judges, some of whom are political appointees with only a passing knowledge of the law, telling us what we can and cannot do.

If further proof be needed that the Human Rights Act should be replaced by our own Bill of Rights, I learn that the Scottish National Party, led by Nicola Sturgeon who isn’t even an elected Member of Parliament, is hoping to lead the opposition to its abolition, assuming she can get a word in edgeways now that her predecessor the loquacious Alex Salmon is back.

Curious in the extreme that the two most influential members of the Scottish National Party are named after fish!