The imminent appearance of the parliamentary commission’s report into a new Bill of Rights is giving the Tory right an opportunity to bray against what they call “a court sitting overseas” – the European Court of Human Rights.
For the Bill of Rights as is proposed is not about holding parliamentary lawmakers and the executive to account or guaranteeing basic democratic rights. No, quite the opposite. Behind the nationalist demagogy about “diktats from
” and a purely “British”
form of justice, is something quite different. Brussels
This is prime minister Cameron’s effort to appease the right wing in his Conservative party. Their nationalism provides a cover for a visceral hatred for the idea of human rights in general and the European Court of Human Rights in particular.
Strangely enough, for the Union Jack-waving backwoods people who argue that the ECHR is a dictatorial “imposition” from
Europe, it was
the Tory Winston Churchill who helped establish the European Convention of
Human Rights. The same Convention then led to the establishment of the European
Court of Human Rights in 1959, as human rights lawyer Bill Bowring notes.
Despite this, it took four decades for the convention to be – and then only partially – incorporated into British law. This took place in 1998 under New Labour. But, to the anger of human rights lawyers, home secretary David Blunkett immediately “derogated” – i.e. opted out – of Article 5 of the Convention, which enshrines “the right to liberty and security of person”.
He did this as on the grounds that there was a terrorist threat and a public emergency in the
UK following the 9/11 attacks on , which overrode
any such individual rights. New Labour’s
derogation dovetailed neatly with the needs of the secret state – namely the
heads of the military, the police and secret services – and last but certainly
not least – the US Central Intelligence Agency’s own “war on terror”. New York
Two recent cases show why human rights legislation is hated by the right. Asperger’s Syndrome sufferer Gary McKinnon avoided extradition to the
on computer hacking
charges under the Human Rights Act. It took huge determination by
McKinnon himself, his mother and lawyers to conduct a ten-year legal campaign after initially
losing appeals in the High Court and the House of Lords against his
extradition. Last week, it was decided he would face no charges in United States . Britain
The case of German citizen Khaled el-Masri has taken almost as long. El-Masri was seized by security officers in
Macedonia on 31 December
2003 while crossing into .
He held incommunicado for 23 days, turned over to the CIA and tortured. It was only on December 13 last week that 17
European court judges provided him with any kind of redress. Serbia
The ECHR has held that his forcible disappearance, kidnapping and “rendition” in
Skopje to the
violated the most basic guarantees of human decency. He had never been charged
with any crime. It was a case of mistaken identity but neither the CIA nor the United States government
The Commission for the Bill of Rights has already cited the “exponential increase” in the ECHR’s caseload as a threat to its viability. At that time the court had a backlog of 150,000 cases. The commission’s first proposal is that new screening mechanisms should be introduced to “reduce very significantly the number of cases that reach the Court”.
So the ECHR is facing a twin attack – from the Tories in
from the backlog of cases as a result of the mounting attacks on
human rights. The Bill of Rights under consideration is a Trojan horse which we
should not make the mistake of accepting as a gift. Instead, we should fight
for an Agreement
of the People, a democratic constitution for the 21st century. Britain
A World to Win secretary