Louise Mensch took to Twitter this morning, proclaiming that the Human Rights Act 1998 is loathed by the public, is drafted too broadly, and is a terrible law:
Is it a badly drafted law? In very simple terms (and it is a very simple Act), all the HRA says is that we have to take notice of the European Convention on Human Rights when interpreting law and interpret it in line with the Convention. If that cannot be done, the judge must issue a declaration of incompatibility, which is to say, asks Parliament to have a re-look at it. By my maths, there have been about 20 declarations which have been upheld and lead to a change since the Act came into force. The Act also states that public bodies cannot act in a way incompatible with the Convention.
The Convention was drafted after World War II to ensure the horrors of that era were not repeated. The Convention itself is incredibly simple to read, and in terms of drafting it, er… well, we are largely responsible for that, via Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. But you know, history, who needs to know that?
Do the public loathe it? What is to loathe? The rights protected are:
The right to life -which talks not only about capital punishment, but also about the right to defend yourself using necessary force;
The prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment;
The prohibition of slavery and forced labour;
The right to liberty and security, with limits placed on the infringement of the right to liberty where the detention is lawful;
The right to a fair trial – which every advocate I know has used at least once;
No punishment without law, which means that you cannot be punished for an act which was lawful at the time of commission, nor can you be sentenced greater than the sentence which would have existed at the time of the act should it have been unlawful;
The right to respect for your private and family life. Some of the first cases using the HRA were under this provision;
The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion – I may not believe in sky fairies, but I will defend your right to;
The right to freedom of expression – which albeit qualified, means I can write stuff like this;
The right to freedom of assembly and association;
The right to marry – which sadly has so far been read to mean opposite sex marriage, although the Convention as drafted is not explicit;
The right to an effective remedy – that is, when rights under the Convention are breached, there must be a remedy before a national court;
The prohibition on discrimination;
There are a few other articles – for instance, allowing states to limit the political activities of ‘aliens’ (that’s foreigners, not little green men), and allowing states to derogate from the Convention in times of war or public emergency.
What the public seem the loathe is the Daily Mail/Conservative Party version of the Human Rights Act – that which tells us that owning a cat allows an illegal immigrant to stay here. However, as has been demonstrated, that version of the HRA just simply isn’t true.
Is it a terrible law? I fail to see how it is, although I will accept it seems to be a law which annoys governments – especially this one. To me that makes it a good law, one which is doing the job it was intended to do. It is a law which requires fairness, basic standards and refuses to allow public bodies to over-step the mark. For the life of me, I can’t think why they don’t like it.