I’m taking some cues of my friend over at Legal Fiction by doing a short blog on human rights, the bête noire of all of our so beloved right-wing newspapers. I’m going to not cover the minutae of things such as judicial review, because he’s done it already. And he knows it better than me.
It’s been a disastrous month for the European Court of Human Rights in British opinion. Not only did they have to deal with prisoner voting, but now there’s news about an impending case before the ECHR about prisoners in psychiatric units being given “pocket money” – or, as the Daily Mail put it so eloquently, “Killers and rapists go to European Court of Human Rights to win full state benefits“. It’s a perfect story for the Mail; they can rag on criminals, benefit claimants, the mentally ill, and Europe at the same time! I mean, factually, the headline is correct. But the intention of the article is to equate people who did these horrific acts because they were severely mentally ill (and thus, not responsible for their crimes) with those like, say, Ian Huntley or Harold Shipman. It’s bad for mental health awareness, but it’s absolutely terrible because these newspapers are using this as a way to score cheap political points.
They’ve got a pattern, really. ECHR judgment comes down against the government, and then the Eurosceptics will use one or more of the following complaints: “Human rights”, “political correctness gone mad”, “unelected judges”, “Eurocratic fascism”, “impinging British sovereignty”, et cetera. And I’m going to go on about the third for a second:
Of course judges are not elected, you morons. Especially in the case of judicial review. Would you really want a case before the High Court to be decided by a layman, someone who doesn’t have education in law? Of course not. There’s also another reason why judges aren’t elected: because doing so would mean they’d be more bothered with garnering votes, or money, than upholding the law neutrally. And people will be out for blood after some sort of “judicial activism” (i.e., “judgement I dislike”); we saw this in November when three judges who had found that Iowa’s constitution forbade marriage discrimination on account of sexual orientation were defeated in their retention elections, due to the efforts of homophobic pressure groups.
Even still, the Human Rights Act is a piece of legislation that would be called to return once it’s gone (in that unlikely event). It enshrines in British law the European Convention of Human Rights: the rights to life, liberty, security, equality, privacy, free expression, free association, democratic government, and a life without torture or capital punishment. Even if, like me, you believe that rights shouldn’t be enumerated because some bright spark might choose to violate a natural or civil right not mentioned (thank you, writers of the U.S. Constitution, for the Ninth Amendment), it’s a good thing. And a government that would repeal the HRA would no doubt infringe the rights of its citizenry the second it was removed from the statute books.
It’s a good for someone with a bone to pick to paint human rights as a scapegoat; a good scare campaign, sadly, always proves more effective than reasoned debate. But the Mail, the Express, the Sun, and even the Telegraph, should all cool their tone on the issue. Right now, people in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula are dying for these rights we take for granted. Our fathers and our grandfathers fought and died across the world to protect them. We should all hope that we should never have to die for our rights again.