I have always believed that the Conservative criticism of the Human Rights Act and support for a Bill of Rights is a clever bit of double think that allows them to blame Labour for unpopular decisions but not appear entirely fascist if someone criticises them for wanting to get rid of human rights. To that end I don’t really believe anything will actually change now they’re in power but grudging kudos to whoever thought of that campaign slogan.
I don’t think the Conservatives can really come up with a bundle of fundamental freedoms that didn’t occur to the drafters of the UN declaration or the European convention. There are genuine European substantive law issues that limit what they could say but, more to the point, once you get beyond rights to life and a fair trial; freedom of expression and gathering; and freedom from torture and so on you’re limited in what you can really put out as a human right anyway. “Broadband internet” is hardly human rights material, for example.
The main problem clouding this whole issue is that there is some woeful misreporting of the juicy HRA stories – at the previous election David Davis campaigned with the anecdote of a inmate who went to court seeking to enforce his human right to hardcore pornography. This is true, it happened. However what also happened is the judge laughed in his face and told him to get back to prison. That bit doesn’t make so much news. We risk repealing a piece of our constitutional framework because some people we don’t like have the temerity to go to court and unsuccessfully try to use it.
The current news is that two terror suspects can’t be deported because they face torture if they go back. The problem is that the authorities only suspect they’re terrorists but can’t convince any court that they are. That’s what suspected means. Basically some detective has a hunch. Detectives get hunches all the time, some times it’s just something they ate.
We have no idea what evidence failed to convince a judge that they were terrorists because the evidence, and the trial it was heard in, is secret. The reason given is that they don’t want to reveal their sources and I suspect that’s probably true. I just don’t know if it that’s because it’s a rubbish source that’s given ridiculously poor evidence that’s been pulled out of an orifice or if it really is some impossibly dashing secret agent bedding femme fatales while drinking martinis and driving fast cars. We wouldn’t get to hear about the evidence either way. The question in my mind has boiled down to “is the government more likely to employ James Bond or Mr Bean?” This is what I’m reduced to in trying to evaluate my own country’s counter-terrorism policy.
In the absence of an open trial process we’re left having to take the people who can’t grit the roads or tender building contracts properly at their word when they say they genuinely have caught a bad person. Even crazier is that the person they say they’ve caught has to take their word on this too because they aren’t told what they did or what the evidence is either. I never understood that — what sort of secret are you protecting by not telling them, surely they already found out when they did it in the first place?
The immigration tribunal service is not a shining example of common sense — it once told an homosexual Iranian it wanted to deport that it was safe to be gay in Iran as long as you don’t tell anyone (the authorities had recently decided to hang the man’s partner from a lamppost) — and should simply not be treated with implicit confidence in abilities that they don’t demonstrate.
You certainly don’t need to throw the baby of the Human Rights Act out with the bathwater of the Daily Mail.