Why have the Conservatives not published their “Bill of Rights” proposals?

Last week the Conservative party sent to the press a press release and a proposals paper on their envisaged “Bill of Rights” which is to replace the Human Rights Act 1998.

I published the press release here.  The legal blogger Carl Gardner published the policy paper here (and it was also published on a few news sites).

 

But the curious thing is that the Conservatives did not publish the press release or policy paper.  It seems that they sent their proposals, which would affect the fundamental rights of all citizens, to their contacts in the press.  Left to the Conservatives, the proposals were not to be published so that that public could read them unless a media outlet chose to publish the proposals.

What the Conservatives should have done, of course, is publish the proposals on their website, for consultation or comment.  After all, these are important proposals about a serious matter.

But, no.  The details of the proposals were for the Press only.  If the Press published the proposals paper then that was up to them.

And five days later, the Conservatives have still not published their proposals.

The only mention on their site is this pathetic page (“share the facts“!).  They also sent this (ironic) tweet (“Get the facts you need on our plans…“) linking to that utterly non-informative page.

 

One can understand why the Conservatives would now not want to publish their legally illiterate, widely derided proposals; but they did not not know what the response would be at the time the proposals were announced and shared with the Press.

What this omission indicates is something different from simple embarrassment.

What this shows is that the Conservatives only see this as a media exercise, so as to generate politically advantageous coverage.

The Conservatives do not really want to know what you think about abolishing the Human Right Act and they do not want you to have access to their plans, independent of any media outlet; the Conservatives instead care more about what the Press thinks and what the Press will tell you to think.

In essence, it tells you everything about the Conservatives’ contempt for citizens that their “Bill of Rights” proposals were intended only for the Press, and not for citizens to be able to see for themselves.

 

 

UPDATE

Just after I published this post, this happened – the Tories inserted a link on their website and dishonestly made out it had been there all along.

 

 

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Is it a criminal offence to watch a video?

The Metropolitan Police put out an alarmist statement this week that, in certain circumstances, merely viewing a video could constitute a criminal offence under terrorist legislation.

 

This is, of course, false.

 

There is no such terrorism offence for viewing a video, and the Met could not substantiate their claim when challenged.  It seems to me that the Met press office simply invented a “viewing” offence.

 

My full post on the Met’s alarmist and false statement is at the FT (free to access, but registration required).  The conclusion of my FT post (which should be read in full for context) reads:

It would appear that the [Met] press office, which had produced and promoted the bold statement that that “viewing” a video could itself be a criminal act under terrorism legislation, could not substantiate it when challenged.

This was worrying. People need reliable and accurate public information, and they have the right to expect it from the well-funded PR departments of UK police forces. If a police force tells people something is against the law then it should be able to instantly say on demand what that law is. The law should not be made up by press officers as they go along, especially in respect of matters such as terrorism where confidence in law enforcement agencies is crucial.

It cannot be the role of any police force to publish alarmist and false statements about the criminal law.

 

There is also a detailed storify-style timeline of my tweets recording my conversation with the Met press office.

 

Even though what the Met said was not true, almost every news media outlet published the assertion without challenging it.  Not really their fault, though: one would think that the press office of Scotland Yard could be relied upon to correctly state the criminal law of the land.

 

 

 

 

Human Rights Act and Bingham’s Question: which rights are we to discard?

So the Human Rights Act and the European Court of Human Rights are in the news.

One Tory Minister wants to repeal the Act, and another wants us to withdraw from the Court.  The extent to which either of these propositions make sense is expertly set out by Adam Wagner, perhaps the UK’s leading legal blogger.

The proposals are depressing on two levels.

First, it is clear that such calls are gesture politics.  The Tories have lost a by-election and feel the need to play to the audience.  There is no real chance that the Act will be repealed or the UK withdraw from Strasbourg.

Second, it represents a failure by those in favour of human rights law.  It is now over twelve years since the Act took effect, but still uninformed and misleading statements about human rights law are made by those who should know better and circulated by those who could not care less.

But since 2000, human rights have become part of the mainstream in litigation.  Even Associated Newspapers has sought to rely on its Article 10 right to free expression under the ECHR (see paragraphs 33 and 36 here).   But the frequent use of human rights law in the courts has not been matched by a more informed public debate.

Indeed, one of the shortest conversations one can have in British politics is when a critic of human rights is asked to be specific as to which rights under the ECHR and provisions of the Human Rights Act should be abandoned.  It is almost as “human rights” is a hobgoblin with no more substance than is necessary to scare us.

In fact, the Human Rights Act is an instrument which should be commended by those who want the UK courts to decide things instead of Strasbourg.  The Act’s existence has made it rare for applicants to go to the European Court of Human Rights, and the case law developed by UK judges in UK courts since 2000 means that Strasbourg jurisprudence has become less relevant.  The Human Rights Acts also provides that UK judges cannot disapply primary legislation on human rights grounds, and so the supremacy of parliament is maintained.

And as for the convention rights themselves, which ones should we not have as protections?  As the late Lord Bingham said in a lecture which should be read in full by anyone interested in the human rights debate:

The rights protected by the Convention and the Act deserve to be protected because they are, as I would suggest, the basic and fundamental rights which everyone in this country ought to enjoy simply by virtue of their existence as a human being.

Let me briefly remind you of the protected rights, some of which I have already mentioned.

The right to life.
The right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The right not to be enslaved.
The right to liberty and security of the person.
The right to a fair trial.
The right not to be retrospectively penalised.
The right to respect for private and family life.
Freedom of thought,conscience and religion.  Freedom of expression.
Freedom of assembly and association.
The right to marry.
The right not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of those rights.
The right not to have our property taken away except in the public interest and with compensation.
The right of fair access to the country’s educational system.
The right to free elections.

 

Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard? Are any of them trivial, superfluous, unnecessary? Are any them un-British? 

There may be those who would like to live in a country where these rights are not protected, but I am not of their number.
Human rights are not, however, protected for the likes of people like me – or most of you. They are protected for the benefit above all of society’s outcasts, thosewho need legal protection because they have no other voice – the prisoners, the mentally ill, the gipsies, the homosexuals, the immigrants, the asylum-seekers, those who are at any time the subject of public obloquy.

Here Lord Bingham nails it: just which of these rights do we really wish to discard?

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