Posts Tagged ‘ECHR’

The Tories Don’t Understand Human Rights

08/10/2014, 10:33:42 AM

by Sam Fowles

Forced to abandon NHS bashing for the sake of the election, David Cameron needed to feed the right some red meat. He chose the European Convention on Human Rights, promising to repeal the Human Rights Act, which allows English judges to incorporate the dicta of the Strasbourg court into their rulings, and allow Parliament to ignore the European Court of Human Rights.  This is more than simply wrong; it shows a fundamental failure to understand of the role human rights play in international law and politics.

The international law of human rights is based on the premise that there is something fundamentally valuable about each individual human. In this light Cameron’s idea of a “British Bill of Rights” seems absurd. People are not inherently valuable because they are British or French or Afghan. We are valuable because we are human. For this reason that the ECHR applies to British troops fighting abroad. To suggest that people should lose value in our eyes because they are non-European is an attitude redolent of the 13th Century not the 21st.

The ECHR is itself based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It doesn’t invent “European Rights”. It allows citizens of European states direct access to universal rights. It’s worth noting that the UK would remain bound by a plethora of international human rights conventions even if it were to secede from the ECHR (as the Conservatives threaten). The government’s legal obligations wouldn’t fundamentally change; they would just get more complex.

In practice human rights law protects the vulnerable from the powerful. This is why a bill of rights decided purely by the parliamentary majority is so dangerous. Human rights act as a check on the majority. Courts should make decisions (such as giving prisoners the vote) with which most of us disagree. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be a check on the majority.

This is important because, in a democracy, the majority should be able to change. If the power of a majority is not checked then there is nothing to stop that majority taking steps to make itself permanent. Cameron is asking us to trust to powerful to set limits to their own power. For a man who supposedly venerates the Magna Carter he sounds suspiciously like Prince John.


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Everyone is talking rubbish about “Europe”

16/01/2014, 10:40:07 AM

by Sam Fowles

I’m trying really hard to remember a time when we could go a whole week without having to have a national moan about “Europe”*. I mean I get it, I really do. All that great food, fantastic culture and nice weather. Not to mention Germany and France’s positively infuriating collective predilection for paying people properly and according them proper employment rights.

Actually I don’t get it. But a collective grumble is one thing, much more serious is that our national debate on Europe is dramatically and consistently rubbish. I’ve (reluctantly) learned to accept that some people have different opinions to me but when did it become acceptable to just make things up when it comes to Europe?

The whole debate pretty much falls into four words: Immigrants, human rights and “reform”. But none of these supposed “problems” with “Europe” are actually based on fact. Cameron and co spent December falling over themselves to prevent the supposed influx of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants abusing our welfare system. UKIP’s website proclaims its ambition to “take back control of our borders”. But if anyone had actually bothered to check, they’d have discovered that recent immigrants are 45% less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits than people already living here and have made a net contribution of £25bn to public finances since 2000.

Instead of “Immigration rows out of control” (our Prime Minister’s choice of words) that whole fiasco could be summed up as “everyone freaks out because (foreign) people want to be productive members of society”. By the way, people coming over here, spending money and paying tax helps create jobs, not take them away. It’s called economic growth, look it up, its great.


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