Archive for February 17th, 2011

We have had the wisdom of Parliament in the form of 234 MPs voting against proposals to comply with the European Court of Human Rights judgment on prisoner votes. We have had a rather surprising intervention from the leading judge of that court, Jean-Paul Costa, stating that  Britain will be resorting to the tactics of the Greek colonels in 1967 if it does not comply with ECHR ruling and now we have Home Secretary Theresa May stating that the  Government is “appalled” by sex offender ruling.”   British politicians have now attacked the European Court of Human Rights and our own judiciary and, it would seem, they are going for the triple crown by setting up a Commission to look into the establishment of a British Bill of Rights.

Obiter J has a considered view on this matter which is worth reading and The UK Human Rights blog, also.

What is of interest to me in this post is the public perception being built up that we are at the mercy of ‘unelected judges’, European and home grown, and that somehow that these laws we signed up to are being foisted on us by dark forces elsewhere. This is not the case and it is worrying that public statements by politicians, all of whom should know better, are becoming increasingly ‘economical with the truth’ in the race to win hearts and minds of voters.

Obiter J makes the valid (and important) point: “Even allowing for political rhetoric, such an inaccurate statement about the role of the courts is disappointing.  There is no question that it is Parliament which makes the law.  Parliament has told the judges to apply the European Convention and Parliament has permitted judges to make a declaration that a legislative provision is incompatible with the Convention.  The judges have not granted themselves such powers and such powers do not exist in the English common law system.”

I have made the point before, a point well known to all lawyers and many non-lawyers, that Parliament is at the pinnacle of law making in this country and is supreme in the sense that it may legislate to come out of the European Convention and even the European Union itself if it so chooses.

In the meantime a degree of honesty in public statements and briefings to the press, and responsible and accurate reporting by the press, is not an unreasonable request to make given the importance of these issues.  We do have a right to be told the truth?

I hope regular readers will forgive me for repeating ‘the bleedin obvious’,  but it appears that some politicians don’t really know what they are talking about and if they do, they are misleading the public on the true position.  Unfortunately, I suspect, politicians are too busy briefing the press to let mere law get in the way, let alone finding time to read the many law blogs and articles written by experienced legal journalists out there which address these issues carefully. Here endeth…today’s rant.

British political populism risks conflict with Europe over human rights court

Dr Cian Murphy, King’s College London in The Guardian: Parliament is resurgent and a British bill of rights would be welcome, but ‘constitutional chauvinism’ will hurt Britain as well as the human rights convention

To defend the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998) it is necessary to counter the falsehoods and distortions of those who misrepresent it…

The New Law Journal reports: Geoffrey Bindman calls on the government to defend the Human Rights Act

To defend the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998) it is necessary to counter the falsehoods and distortions of those who misrepresent it. Regrettably the prime minister himself is among those who have done so, as well as more predictable elements of the media, particularly the Daily Mail.

AND FINALLY…. this from The Daily Mail

Philip Davies, the Conservative MP for Shipley said: ‘After votes for prisoners, we now have the potential for human rights legislation to give sex offenders the opportunity to come off the sex offenders register.

‘Is the Prime Minister aware that my constituents are sick to the back teeth of the human rights of criminals and prisoners being put before the rights of law-abiding citizens in this country?

‘Is it not time that we scrapped the Human Rights Act and, if necessary, withdrew from the European convention on human rights?’ Spot on.

Cameron replied: ‘My hon. Friend speaks for many people in saying how completely offensive it is, once again, to have a ruling by a court that flies in the face of common sense. Requiring serious sexual offenders to sign the register for life, as they now do, has broad support across this House and across the country.

‘I am appalled by the Supreme Court ruling. We will take the minimum possible approach to this ruling and use the opportunity to close some loopholes in the sex offenders register.

‘I can also tell my hon. Friend that a commission will be established imminently to look at a British Bill of Rights, because it is about time we ensured that decisions are made in this Parliament rather than in the courts.’

Mon dieu…. whatever next?  – just let the Police sort everything out and not bother about courts?  Or… a bit more political grandstanding?

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