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.
Human Rights as an idea are a good thing; they ensure that people have freedoms to do things such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought and several others. They can do these things as and where they want as long as they don’t break any laws such as saying something that’s racist or inflammatory.
However I have one major problem with human rights and that with the people who automatically think that someone should have the human right to do anything. A recent example of this was related to a discussion I had with someone about the conditions of an ASBO that were placed on someone. The basis of the ASBO was that this person was not to wear a short skirt between set hours which happened to be the times when parents would drop off and pick up their children from school.
The ASBO had been obtained because this person had been wearing such clothing at these times and been bending over at times exposing their underwear to people passing by notably parents with and without young children. So after numerous complaints to the police an ASBO was issued that prohibited the wearing of these clothes at a set time. Which if you think about it is a very logical approach by the judge issuing the ASBO.
However the person I was having the discussion with couldn’t see it like that, they were trying to argue that the ban on clothing was a direct violation of this persons human rights and that they should be allowed to wear whatever they liked whenever they liked. As it was their right enshrined in law.
It’s that point of view that annoys me, they are seeing the actions in a very narrow way that its victimisation of this one person. With a complete disregard for the human rights of the wider world, it is as if they don’t care about the human rights of the other people involved in the situation. As surely the parents and the children have rights not to have someone bend down in front of them and show their underwear to them.
While we do have the right to do and say what we want, this can’t be something that we do with total ignorance to those around us. I have the freedom of speech and could go and stand outside on my street and say “The world is going to end, we should all eat more broccoli to stop it happening!” now if I did that during the day time it would be fine and considerate of those around me however if I went out at 3am on a Sunday morning and did it I may well be exercising my democratic right for free speech I am violating lots of other people’s right to a private life and duly and rightly so would probably get free bed and breakfast at the local police station.
This is the element of human rights that a lot of people don’t get, that yes X has human rights but as do all of the people that X affects with their actions. The victims in human right issues like in just about all other areas of the law get forgot.
Now I am not defending the likes of the couple that ran the B&B who refused the gay couple accommodation, as in my opinion that has nothing to do with human rights it’s a simple and straightforward case of discrimination.
Which brings me on to the final part of this; Human Rights are a good thing however there is always going to be the issue of whose rights are more important. Is it X’s right to freedom of expression or is it the victims’ rights not to be offended by the actions of X. Which if they are not illegal is going to cause problems for the authorities and those offended by the actions. This is where I think the UK as a whole could benefit from a Bill of Rights. We wouldn’t need to revoke the Human Rights Act it could exist alongside the Bill of Rights it would just help society and the courts deal with situations where we have competing rights and would allow those who have been offended by other people’s actions know what the law says.
The vast majority of western democracies have a bill of rights and those that exist within Europe have Human Rights law too. So why shouldn’t the UK introduce something like that it makes things clear and concise and gives people a definite yes or no on an issue; as the law likes certainty and the current system we have is anything but certain.