What don't you like about human rights?
|Viscount Rothermere (then owner of Daily Mail and |
Daily Mirror) meets Adolf Hitler
The past few weeks have been mildly interesting if you like reading about human rights and why we shouldn’t have them. The idea of people arguing that they shouldn’t be entitled to human rights always reminds me of a friend of mine who hates the idea of consumer rights, not because he runs a business but on principle; not that he lets it stop him exercising his consumer rights when it suits him.
My friend also hates human rights. He doesn’t dislike them or disagree with them, he hates them. Like many people who despise the notion of human rights he is also passionately anti-Europe (although unlike most people he understands that the European Union has nothing to do with the European Convention on Human Rights). Also like most people who hate human rights, my friend can’t say which of the individual rights he would like done away with (and he does know them all being a law graduate from King’s College London and the University of Law).
The rights and freedoms protected by the ECHR are:
1. Right to life;
2. Prohibition of torture;
3. Prohibition of slavery and forced labour;
4. Right to liberty and security;
5. Right to a fair trial;
6. No punishment without law;
7. Right to respect for private and family life;
8. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
9. Freedom of expression;
10. Freedom of assembly and association;
11. Right to marry;
12. Right to an effective remedy (for breach of ECHR); and
13. Prohibition of discrimination (so far as enjoyment of rights are concerned).
When considering whether we agree or disagree with anything in law it’s always worth putting yourself or a loved one in the position of the parties involved. So, imagine which rights you’d happily be denied to you or your children? Would you deny your son the right to life? Would you deny your daughter the freedom from torture? Maybe you’ll happily see her sold into slavery, provided she’s neither tortured nor killed? Does the local bobby think your son is a bit of a chav? Maybe you’d be happy to do away with the rights to liberty and a fair trial so the police could lock him up indefinitely without trial? No punishment without law means an act has to have been a crime at the time you did it for you to be convicted of a crime. Let’s imagine you invest in a pension fund that in turn invests in nuclear power stations. The Greens come to power (okay I know this is unlikely) and pass a law imprisoning anybody who has, directly or indirectly, invested in nuclear power, does that sound fair? I could go on for quite a while in this way.
The most common response to “what right would you do without?” is “I don’t mind the rights just the way they are implemented by judges.” For the most part this is because the person hasn’t understood the law, the facts or both – or to put it another way, because a newspaper or politician with an agenda has deliberately misreported the case. As examples, I give you Mrs May and the case where she claimed a judge had allowed somebody to remain in the UK because he owned a cat when in fact the judge had noted the man owned a cat and said that it had nothing to do with his decision. What about Chris Grayling our Justice Secretary who last year teamed up with the Daily Mail to decry the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights – a document that does not apply to the UK in any event – which he claimed created 54 “new” rights. In fact it’s a restatement of the ECHR for the most part and a small handful of “new” rights that are, in any case almost all already the law in the UK. The "new" laws require doctors to obtain consent before conducting medical procedures and ban child labour.
Here’s a good example of some mis-leading coverage from the Daily Mail. Here’s a couple of highlights. They claim that the UK has lost 202 cases before the European Court of Human Rights, which is true, although they neglect to point out that the ECtHR has considered 13,515 cases against the UK. In the original story, the Mail claimed that £4.4M had been paid out in compensation to criminals where in fact they later admitted that the total compensation ordered by the ECtHR is only £1.7M and that this money went to a range of claimants, not just criminals. Also, the Mail has lumped this story together with two apparently unrelated ones about gas prices and the former Director of Public Prosecution’s incorrect assessment of the law on abortion. I’d suggest the only reason this was done is to provide a misleading impression to readers and generate further hatred of the human rights that were created after the second world war to protect us all… incidentally, you might recall that the Daily Mail was the newspaper that supported Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party as he committed the very crimes that led to the creation of modern human rights!
In the past couple of weeks I’ve read some interesting new reasons why we should do away with human rights, the gist of which seems to be that a) Hitler would probably have ignored them anyway so there's no point in trying to have laws that might have stopped him; and b) nations outside of the west do not agree with our western concept of human rights and so they are doomed. Interestingly, I’ve yet to see any of these people suggest an alternative that they would approve of and that is acceptable to both the west and the east (and I suppose the north and the south).
Human rights may well be the modern morality for a world rapidly removed from the morality of religion. I am happy to consider some alternative to human rights but I’ve yet to see one that is more acceptable to everybody than what we have now. Having said that, I do have one alternative: I would be happy to become your leader and I will promise to ensure that everyone is nice to each other and not to kill too many of you when you displease me. I could be given the title Lord Protector in Perpetuity. I think I’d make a good leader of the world and moral compass for you all.