”Yooman Rights” is a complete misnomer, of course. What ought to stand for the right of all people to arrange themselves and their society how they choose, subject only to their own common agreement and without interference from other nations, groups or societies, has instead become the weapon of choice for those very groups and societies. Sexual and religious minorities have used Yooman Rights as a lever to force society at large to adapt to their wishes – so effectively that smaller and far less deserving groups like terrorists and criminals are now seeking to do the same.
Veteran journalist, author, historian and commentator Max Hastings says it's vital we stay angry ...
Human Rights legislation has become a great divider of the British people, a definer of identities. On one side of the argument stand the Liberal Democrats; Cherie Blair as a standard-bearer of the legal profession which waxes fat on HR spoils; and all those want to remake Britain as a model of Scandinavian social rectitude.
In the other camp is almost everyone who believes that Britain is, on the whole and of its own making, a decent place upholding decent values.
The stranglehold which HR now exercises on the way we conduct our affairs, to the advantage of no one save terrorists and the aforesaid lawyers, has become a very bad joke. It makes some people shrug despairingly, as they do about Health & Safety. But it is absolutely proper that we should stay angry at big wrongs, and harry politicians who claim that it is impossible to right them.
Yesterday’s verdict from the European Court of Human Rights, branding whole-life tariffs for murderers in British prisons as ‘inhuman and degrading’, represents an insulting intrusion into our national affairs, made by people who are quite unfit to influence them.
Of course, this is merely the latest of many foolish and inappropriate judgments, but that does not make it more acceptable. The European Convention was adopted in 1950, the Court created in 1959. Those were days when many countries — the Soviet Empire notable among them — routinely imprisoned, tortured and executed people, often without trial. Franco’s Spain was still garrotting domestic critics.
The democratic nations of Europe sought to establish standards for civilised behaviour, and the Court in Strasbourg achieved some success in doing so. For decades it caused Britain little trouble, because it recognised that we were not what it was there for.
But gradually, like so many unaccountable institutions, it grew out of its boots.
Today, its website proudly proclaims that it ‘has made the Convention a living instrument capable of applying to situations that did not exist or were inconceivable at the time it was drafted .?.?. The Convention is a resolutely modern treaty that can adapt to contemporary social issues’.
In practice, this means that every year, a raft of British cases reaches Strasbourg — almost invariably involving legally aided appellants at a cost to the public purse of hundreds of thousands of pounds — of a kind of which no one would have dreamt six decades back.
The potential beneficiaries of yesterday’s ruling were Jeremy Bamber, who murdered his entire family for cash gain; Peter Moore, who killed four gay men in pursuit of sexual gratification; and Douglas Vinter, who murdered his wife soon after he’d completed a sentence for killing a colleague.
Parliament passed legislation in 2003, allowing for some sentences involving heinous crimes to mean life imprisonment without review. This measure had overwhelming public support, following a succession of deplorable cases in which violent criminals were released thanks to philanthropic review boards, only to exploit their freedom to commit ghastly new crimes.
The issue here is the right of Britain, as a state with a responsible and long-proven legal system, to adopt its own policies about appropriate punishments for criminals. What we do with our murderers has absolutely no influence on the right of other nations to make different arrangements.
If the Swedes, for instance, want to parole killers after five years, or the Italians decide to keep them in solitary confinement, their dispensation may be better or worse than ours, but it is surely everyone’s right to make their own choices. It seems intolerable that 16 Strasbourg judges should dictate to Britain how it addresses crime and punishment. And what judges!
I looked up the list, which includes Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos from Greece, Dragoljub Popovic from Serbia, Nona Tsotoria from Georgia and Nebojsa Vucinic from Montenegro. The court includes one British member named Paul Mahoney. He spent most of his career as a law lecturer, with a couple of years as a practising barrister, and a spell as a visiting professor at the University of Saskatchewan. He then attached himself to the great European gravy train by becoming an administrator at the Court of Human Rights, before gravitating to a judgeship.
I have nothing against Saskatchewan, and I am sure Paul Mahoney is a fine, upstanding Eurocrat. But I cannot for the life of me think of any reason why he is an appropriate person — any more than is Nebojsa Vucinic — to decide whether Jeremy Bamber should, or should not, have any claim to a review of his life sentence.
Human rights, once a fine phrase defining a noble cause, has been debased by foolish judges at home, as well as abroad. It was our own Supreme Court which decided last month that the families of British soldiers killed in action should be able to sue the Government, if negligence had contributed to their deaths. This was a decision as remote as Mars from common sense. Sensible lawyers say that our judges show ever-increasing symptoms of being afflicted by the madness of Strasbourg; that the British judiciary bears a heavy responsibility for gold-plating human rights decisions. Judge-made law is an ever-increasing threat to the conduct of a sensible society, and to respect for the wishes of parliament and the British people.
The European Convention on Human Rights pre-dates the Common Market, and the Strasbourg Court has no direct link with Brussels. Thus the EU cannot be held responsible for its follies and mischief-making. But diplomats and civil servants warn that, even if Britain quit the Convention, there would be major consequential problems with our European partners.
This may be so, but surely the ECHR nonsense cannot indefinitely continue. The Strasbourg Court takes pride in the fact that it is constantly extending its remit, which means its interference in domestic affairs.
Other countries are protected, to some degree, by domestic judges who are more robust than our own in upholding national interests, especially on security matters. Who can imagine France, for instance, dallying for years as did Britain and its courts over the deportation of the appalling Abu Qatada?
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, deserves full credit for her persistence in fighting the human rights fanatics until at last, albeit at huge cost to the taxpayer, Abu Qatada was flown to a Jordanian prison last weekend.
Mrs May told the Commons on Monday that every option, including withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, must be on the table to prevent any repetition of the Abu Qatada farce and Strasbourg’s ‘crazy interpretation of human rights laws’, and most of Britain applauded loudly.
The Liberal Democrats currently block any legislative attempt to escape from the human rights quagmire. David Cameron at least threatens to withdraw from the Human Rights Act if Strasbourg does not stop its meddling, although Whitehall delivers dire warnings about the practical difficulties.
It seems intolerable for this country to remain in thrall to the Strasbourg Court, and its ever more intrusive and absurd judgments. It is grotesque that a cluster of ill-qualified judges, several of them drawn from the most corrupt and ill-governed nations in Europe, should abuse their powers to lay down law, quite literally, to the Government of Britain.
Theresa May is right to say that, whatever the difficulties, we must break the chains of thralldom to Strasbourg.
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