Sunday, October 28, 2007

Human Rights & Wrongs.

Those of is who are old enough to remember the time before the Human Rights Act was passed in 1998 can well remember the absence of human rights before that date. We remember all too well how under the John Major junta people were regularly dragged off the street and out of their homes and tortured for months on end for daring to criticise the government. Well ok I can't think of any particular examples but I'm sure there must have been because we're forever being told that it is essential to upholding core human rights and to prevent the horrors of the Nazis being repeated.

Actual examples of Human Rights Act related cases (actually I'm including all cases made under the European Convention on Human Rights, which is what the HRA derives from*) involve nothing like this but instead consist of arbitrarily deciding that one groups interests outweigh everyone else's for example:

  • The interests of plane hijackers who may be mistreated in their home countries outweighs the interests of law abiding plane passengers who are at increased risk from our courts decision to incentivise hijacking.
  • The interests of a school pupil to wear clothing that advertises her affiliation to extreme ideologies outweighs the interests of all other pupils whose parents want a school that can set its own uniform policy. This verdict was overturned by the Law Lords but the fact that the law is so confusing that it even the two most senior courts in England & Wales disagree over who is right emphasises just how much of a hazard it is to law abiding citizens trying to behave well and mind their own business.
  • The rights of terrorists to murder police officers unimpeded outweighs the rights of police officers not to be murdered.
  • The right of murderers to be near their family outweighs the right of the citizens of a country to deport foreign killers.
These cases emerge because the very concept of 'rights' involves giving some arbitrarily defined interests the ability to trump all competing interests regardless of the circumstances. The vagueness with which human rights are defined put almost everyone at risk of being subjected to a costly and damaging nonsense suit, the Begum case must have cost the local education authority and by extension taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds. It is hardly a surprise to see a local councillor claim that a couple's conservatory extension is a breach of the HRA. It is a charter for harassment, because let's face it one right that won't ever be upheld by the court is the right to be freed from nuisance lawsuits.

* The fact thatthe Human Rights Act derives from a conventions which we are already signatories to has led apologists for the Act to claim that it has therefore not made any real difference. This is untrue as noted here:
A Westlaw search against the Act in March 2006 produced a list of 4,459 cases citing the Act. Compare that to research carried out in 1996 which found that the European Convention on Human Rights had been referred to in 316 cases between 1975 and 1996 but had influenced the outcome in only 16.
The really pathetic thing about the rights culture is that it has done absolutely nothing to prevent genuine threats to free speech that are currently stronger than ever before.

Update: There's a good article on this subject Comment is Free by David Cox, whose relative common sense is something which I've noted before.

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