The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories

Xenophobia is deep in the Tory heart, fuelling their anti-human rights obsession, writes former Solicitor General Vera Baird QC.

Vera Baird QC was the Solicitor General from 2007-2010, and the Labour MP for Redcar from 2001-2010; she is the co-director of Astraea: Gender Justice (Research and Education)

That our blessed Home Secretary can be applauded for proclaiming that human rights won’t let us deport a pet owner shows the Tories’ amazing gullibility to myths about foreigners. Xenophobia is deep in the Tory heart, fuelling their anti-human rights obsession.

All the Human Rights Act did was to make rights that Brits have had against the state since 1948 actionable in UK courts. That means we don’t have the wait, cost and inconvenience of enforcing them at the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg.

The Act preserved Parliament’s supremacy since our courts can only declare law incompatible with any of the British-written European Convention rights. They can’t say any law is invalid.

Strasbourg says that some prisoners should vote and the Commons passed a resolution that they will not. This “constitutional crisis” would also have happened without the Act.

The litigating prisoner lost throughout our court hierarchy and won in Strasbourg. Prior to the Act he would have gone directly to Strasbourg.

May’s moggy was meant to exemplify what’s bad but forced her onto what’s good about our rights. Although she mentioned repeal in her speech, by mid-afternoon she was conceding that there is a balance in Article 8. She only ever argued for change to immigration rules to emphasise that balance.

There is a balance in Article 8 – the right to family life against the need to prevent disorder or crime, the protection of health and the rights and freedoms of others. One can’t think that a feline weighs a lot in that mix nor that changes to immigration rules could make much difference.

Ken Clarke wins his bet. The judges say she is wrong about the case; the cat had nothing to do with the judgment. Attorney General, Dominic Grieve apparently refused to talk to the press last night, saying the cat was too complicated to comment on.

Ken should win the policy struggle too, because he is right again there. Repealing the Act would turn back the clock making Strasbourg the only enforcer again. Nothing else would reverse, as our courts have been implementing rights now for ten years and they are mixed into our common law, like two very similar colours of paint.

So what is going on in the tiny minds of the Tory hierarchy on this issue?

First, there is no doubt Ken Clarke and – insofar as “genuinely” and Nick Clegg can stay in the same sentence without having a fight – Nick Clegg, are genuinely pro human rights. Cameron is in six minds. A few years ago he said he favoured repeal in favour of a British Bill of Rights; last Saturday he said it was less to do with repealing the Act and more to do with the difference government could make to the culture that’s grown up around it.

Theresa May has remained blessedly silent presumably until the day she put the cat into her speech and swallowed it whole.

All at sixes and sevens, they decided to set up a body of predominantly right wing lawyers, called the Commission for British Bill of Rights. It is as if we are likely somehow to be guided to prefer native rights that are quite different from the right to life or a fair trial.

The Commission’s first task was to advise on the huge case backlog at Strasbourg, currently 60,000 and counting.

Ironically, they proposed stronger enforcement of rights in the nation state, the reverse of repealing the Act, but they also want to limit the court to “cases that raise serious questions”. This assumes a “serious question” is visible away. Most of our landmark judgments, like the right to silence and regulation of phone tapping, would have failed this test and never got off the ground.

These plans are not administrative. They are intended to limit the “foreign interference” from the Strasbourg Court while we perforce remain in the Convention. This is the only backward step available being dressed up as progress.

Strasbourg is important. It stands above all national governments and all courts, the ultimate protector against any nation state disregarding human rights.

So shambolic is Tory policy, while so sinister is the subterranean Commission that Labour’s Sadiq Khan recently freed himself from what can be a straitjacketed search for public approval, in this field, to accuse May of “pandering to the Tory right”:

“Two weeks ago the Human Rights Act was ‘here to stay’. Now the home secretary is saying those words aren’t worth the paper they were written on.”

The Commission’s plans would need agreement from all 47 Council of Europe members but that they were even proposed puts us horribly at one with states who are resistant to any human rights, glad to assert that they are following Britain.

Add to that the hysteria intended to be drummed up by Theresa’s cat and the picture begins to emerge. Although there is no practical way of going back on human rights the Tories will encourage abuse and for political and party advantage put at risk what Sadiq Khan calls “ the most significant defence for ordinary people against power”.

This means that imperfect though it is and in need of reform, we must hold onto Strasbourg like glue.

See also:

Kitten heels May gets in a cat flapAlex Hern, October 4th 2011

The Daily Mail’s poisonous lies must be foughtRick Coyle, September 23rd 2011

Opening up the courts to cameras will open up justiceVera Baird QC, September 8th 2011

Clegg’s defence of Human Rights Act as welcome as it is timelyDr Prateek Buch, August 26th 2011

The coalition’s human rights timebombAdam Papaphilippopoulos, May 19th 2010

36 Responses to “The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories”

  1. Ruby Chow

    The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories: //t.co/ri5Rr7VP by @VeraBaird #TheresaMay #catflap #CPC11

  2. David Orr

    The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories: //t.co/ri5Rr7VP by @VeraBaird #TheresaMay #catflap #CPC11

  3. Lucy Greenwood

    @leftfootfwd @VeraBaird BRAVO! RT The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories: //t.co/sEEAwoWk by @VeraBaird #catflap

  4. Liz McShane

    The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories: //t.co/ri5Rr7VP by @VeraBaird #TheresaMay #catflap #CPC11

  5. Catherine Atkinson

    “@leftfootfwd: The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories: //t.co/XSW7ICf3 by @VeraBaird" well worth a read

  6. Lee Butcher

    RT @leftfootfwd: The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories //t.co/eK4uZS7f

  7. Koldo Casla

    The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories: //t.co/ri5Rr7VP by @VeraBaird #TheresaMay #catflap #CPC11

  8. Ben Ellis

    Theresa May – you *are* making it up: //t.co/TZtJvM2V on that moggy and human rights

  9. Dan

    The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories: //t.co/ri5Rr7VP by @VeraBaird #TheresaMay #catflap #CPC11

  10. Clive Burgess

    The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories: //t.co/ri5Rr7VP by @VeraBaird #TheresaMay #catflap #CPC11

  11. Political Planet

    The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories: Xenophobia is deep in the Tory heart, fuelling their … //t.co/h3XcFyHS

  12. Robert Sprigge

    The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories: //t.co/ri5Rr7VP by @VeraBaird #TheresaMay #catflap #CPC11

  13. Natan Doron

    For those wondering what fuss about #Catgate is, the first paragraph of this @VeraBaird piece sums it up beautifully: //t.co/Tv5Ox9SX

  14. Adam Jogee

    For those wondering what fuss about #Catgate is, the first paragraph of this @VeraBaird piece sums it up beautifully: //t.co/Tv5Ox9SX

  15. w.m o'mara

    RT @leftfootfwd: The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories //t.co/LmAiEZNY
    neg arguments based on prejudice & ideology

  16. Michael

    The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories l Left Foot Forward – //j.mp/oVfcZX

  17. soisthesun

    The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories l Left Foot Forward – //j.mp/oVfcZX

  18. Great Scot

    ‘Attorney General, Dominic Grieve apparently refused to talk to the press last night, saying the cat was too complicated to comment on.’ This is the Thick of It…

  19. Olly Parker

    For those wondering what fuss about #Catgate is, the first paragraph of this @VeraBaird piece sums it up beautifully: //t.co/Tv5Ox9SX

  20. Selohesra

    Most reasonable people would accept the Human Rights Act had the best of intentions but they also accept that it is not perfect and sometimes leads to situations which were not as initially intened. Surely the issue is not about how terrible it would be if the Act ceased to apply here but what its proposed replacement is. I would like to think the UK does not need international treaty to treat people in appropriate way

  21. Ray_North

    It’s worse than that – what Theresa May did with her wholly fatuous and dishonest attack on the Human Rights Act using a single piece of evidence in an appeal she knew nothing about, was undermine the whole of the appellate process, it was undignified and counter-productive, she should resign!
    I expand on this in the following piece:
    //www.allthatsleft.co.uk/2011/10/theresa-mays-pussy/

  22. Ben Davies

    RT @leftfootfwd: The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories //t.co/A5KM7Ugu

  23. Anon E Mouse

    What about the rights of the little girl left crushed and dying under a vehicle by a man that shouldn’t have been driving or in this country?

    What about the rights of her family?

    Labour supporters have a strange view on what’s right and wrong…

  24. Shan Kilby

    RT @leftfootfwd: The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories //t.co/TT56gsqZ

  25. Pam

    RT @leftfootfwd: The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories //t.co/TT56gsqZ

  26. Alan Cowan

    The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories | Left Foot Forward //t.co/TGO3zFdv

  27. George McLean

    @3. In so far as it was any recompense to the girl’s family, the driver was punished under our criminal law. That has nothing to do with the Human Rights Act. You aren’t suggesting, are you, that if the family wanted the driver tortured (so infringing his right not to be tortured under the HRA), that should be permitted?

  28. Ed's Talking Balls

    ‘the right to life or a fair trial’

    Deeply disingenuous stuff, straight from the textbook on obfuscation/straw men. No-one in their right mind opposes those rights to which you refer.

    But any sensible person will see a problem in the courts’ excessively wide interpretation of Article 8, particularly when it is so frequently used as a shield to protect foreign rapists and murderers from being deported.

    So, do tell us: is it right/fair that a single murderer should be treated more harshly than a murderer married with children? If the latter should be allowed to reside, often at the taxpayers’ expense, in the country where he perpetrated his despicable crime(s), that’s a perverse incentive to knock up a local girl, is it not?

    The status quo stinks and I believe that those who drafted the Convention, Nazi atrocities fresh in the mind, would be sickened to see the uses to which it is not put.

  29. Ed's Talking Balls

    *now put

  30. Mr. Sensible

    Thank goodness for Ken Clark…

  31. Carl Gardner

    I support the ECHR and the Human Rights Act. I think the HRA was one of the many positive achievements of the last Labour government. I want it to stay.

    This debate isn’t as simple, though, as thinking that every shade of Tory concern on this issue is mad, and that Labour are or should be the good guys standing 100% behind “my human rights law, right or wrong”.

    Labour’s record was spoiled a bit, I think, by the flirtation under Gordon Brown with the idea of a “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities”. This was just as confused an idea as the coalition’s thinking – it was never clear whether the Brown government intended to reinforce the HRA, or water it down, or what. Thankfully the issue was finally considered “too hard” and they left it alone. I predict the coalition will do the same thing.

    There is some substance in concerns, though, about the way the European Court of Human Rights is operating. On prisoners’ votes specifically, for example, its landmark judgment against the UK (Hirst v UK) was criticised by senior dissenting judges as going further than Convention law allowed in interfering with national policy. As a supporter of the court and the ECHR, I agree with that criticism. Since then, the court’s judgments on the issue have been inconsistent and some of them have been even more intrusive then the original Hirst case. The court really is confused and going too far on this issue. Jack Straw is right to be concerned – this is not just a Tory obsession.

  32. Pamela Heywood

    The anti-human rights obsession of Theresa and the Tories //t.co/H2OytTbp

  33. mickelmas

    Because of the distortions and lies about the deficiencies of the Human Rights Act coming from places like the Mail and Theresa May the mood of most of the public is against the HRA.All the more reason why you and other supporters should be far more forcivorous in your defence. In particular, you should address possible conflicts that might arise such as the case of the illegal immigrant who ran over and killed a child but was allowed to remain. Until you can present plausible explanations to counter the arguments made against the application of the HRA you will never win the day.

  34. Leon Wolfson

    @1 – But we do, clearly, from the calls of the right to abolish many fundamental rights. It’s not coincidence that the EU has done more to safeguard rights in this country than Westminster over the last three decades.

    @5 – Then the problem is the court’s use of interpretation, not the HRA. (Which…wait, it IS)

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