Over the weekend we saw an announcement that Teresa May was contemplating leaving the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which was welcomed by a reasonable amount of people. However I don’t think personally that these people have actually thought about the ramifications of such a move.
Now I can understand why some people may be a little annoyed at times with the ECtHR, occasionally it throws up decisions that some people don’t like especially when it comes to things like deportation of terrorists and alike.
However I think this is a knee-jerk reaction, we get a few results which some people disagree with and this has resulted in calls to leave the court. However if you looked at the UK courts you would see a lot more decisions each year and over time that you disagreed with which have an impact on much more people. But the ECtHR has done a lot more good than the few odd outlying cases that have caused so much anger towards the court.
Now let’s just for two minutes consider what the implications of such actions would be. The UK’s Supreme Court is not like any other in the western world, unlike France, Germany, Spain or the USA to name a few, it has no powers to strike down any laws that parliament makes. Now the ECtHR can’t do this either but a judgment against any Government is in effect very similar and will result in a change to the law.
So without that safeguard it makes parliament supreme, it means that the elected officials answer to no one there is no checks and balances to prevent them doing what they want with the law. A government with a large enough majority could rule without any question and pass any laws it wanted to running roughshod over yours and mine rights.
Now is that really a situation that you want to be in?
Now let’s say the next prime minister after having left the Council of Europe is not to happy with criticism of his actions or his beliefs. So to stop this happening he introduces an anti-criticism law which makes it a criminal act to criticise publicly and privately the actions of the government and re-introduces strict blasphemy laws.
Now none of the UK courts can do anything, they have no power to overturn the laws and can only follow them as they are written down. So you have just had your free speech heavily restricted and there is nothing you can do about it.
With Human Rights law you would be able to challenge such a law and the courts could find in your favour which could prevent you getting a criminal record. But without it, you are wishing away your liberty all because you didn’t like how they ruled on a few cases. Is it really worth risking your liberty because you dislike half a dozen judgments?
While the ECtHR may not be perfect, as no system with humans in can ever be, is it really worth going the nuclear option because of it? As after all the ECtHR has done a lot of good that benefit you more than it has done to harm you.
For example; Ireland v United Kingdom says the government can’t lock you up without trial, X.,Y. and Z. v. United Kingdom says that families do not have to be related by blood to be considered families under the law. Lustig-Prean and Beckett v United Kingdom says discriminating against people in employment due to sexual orientation/race/gender and so on is illegal. Then there was the Spycatcher case which the UK had tried to suppress the memoirs of an ex-MI5 office, that the court stopped. Malone v Metropolitan Police Commissioner which involved phone tapping of people by the police.
The list could go on and on with cases from all 47 member states to show just how beneficial the court has actually been in protecting your rights and liberties as individuals. Leaving while it may give you some misguided sense of success in the short term will eventually lead to a less free society with less rights and more power in the hands of the government with the ability to take your rights away with even more ease.
So before you praise this as being a great thing, just please stop and think of the consequences that will come about as a result of it.
Industrial action has again been in the forefront of debate of late, especially with the PCS calling for strikes by border staff on the eve of the Olympics and its had people talking about just what can be done when only 20% of people vote and less than 12% of the union decided to go on strike and cause an inconvenience for thousands or even millions of people.
So what could we do to deal with strikes, well the first thing that comes to mind would be to make them illegal; any right in law could be easily amended or changed with the will of parliament. However popular this may be with people on the right it would certainly bring about probably a general strike by the unions in an attempt to stop it. So maybe this is not the way to go just yet.
The other idea passed around was taking the Ronald Regan approach to it and just sack all the workers, just like he did with the Air Traffic control staff when they went on strike and brought in the military to cover for them. Now this sends a strong message to the unions and Regan didn’t really have much problems with them for the rest of his stint in office. But such an action in the UK would be hard at the moment as the military is stretched a bit and it would fill the employment tribunals with claims.
Then we have the Margret Thatcher approach of seeing who would back down first, as with the miners, again wouldn’t work in this situation as the unions have learned that long strikes are not really in their interest any more as the government has the power and money to outlast any prolonged strike. So they do carefully placed single days of action now.
So out of all the ideas there is only really one left and that’s making it law that a set percentage of union members have to vote in any ballot on strike action. It’s been said that at least 50% of members should vote so that at least we would stop strikes being called by 10% of the unions. But this I have an issue with, if we imposed something like this on the unions it would only be a matter of time before some people started to say that we should do the same for a general election; and one party getting 50% of the votes in a general election in a multi-party system would be near impossible and we would never have a government.
Now where does that leave us, on all the major ideas to deal with strike issues its sort of dried up a bit. But then I had an idea and one that I think is a jolly good idea at that. Now if the government does something to you that causes you loss or damages to property then you have a tortious claim against the government for damages to recover any costs. The same would apply to any private business, individuals or even a charity but in this case unions have a legal exemption from this.
This lead me to thinking, well the left preach a lot about equality, so let’s put some equality before the law here and lets remove the Unions legal protection form tortious claims for damages. Now obviously there would have to be some test drawn up which could be reasonably easy to do. Just showing that any losses incurred by an individual or a company were as a direct result of the industrial action would lead to the ability to claim for any losses as a result of it.
For example if say the teachers went on strike, parents could reclaim the cost of any child care they had to spend money on to enable them to go to work, or it would allow the parent to claim for any loss of earnings they may have suffered. This could equally apply to tube and bus strikes in London where extra travel costs could be claimed back from the unions, and so on so you get the picture.
Now this would mean strikes could happen and even with only 10% of the unions voting to strike, it would be no major change in the strike laws at all. It would just mean that unions had to think very carefully if they wanted to strike over an issue that is well a little frivolous in the eyes of the public. This way we allow strikes but ensure that there is some thought for the greater population not just the union members when they are called.
So there we have it, the perfect solution to industrial action, it doesn’t change the rights to hold strike action or limit their ability to strike action so they unions will be happy, but it also allows those caught up in unilateral damage from the strike action to get recompense; I think you have to agree it’s a fair and just solution all round.