There are many areas of our legal system which are crying out for reform. For starters, there is the almost total collapse of Criminal Justice with hundreds of courts sitting empty due to a shortage of funding. Defendants, witnesses and victims are waiting years for cases to be concluded. The Government’s answer is to pile on even more cases with no additional resources –
Then there is the increasing scandal of Access to Justice being systematically eroded by cuts in legal aid funding with important areas like Housing Law being described by the Law Society as 'catastrophic’ legal advice deserts.
As we approach the December election, what does the Government have to say about this? Nothing. But they have dragged up one of their favourite subjects – The Human Rights Act. Today they have pledged to ‘amend’ the Human Acts 1998 to prevent ‘frivolous’ prosecutions of members of the armed forces. They could not be more inaccurate if they tried.
The Human Rights Act 1998 is relatively short. Its purpose was to bring into English Law, the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK was the first country to ratify the Convention, in 1951. For those who like history here is a brief lesson –
It did not create any new rights. It gave our courts jurisdiction to hear cases arising from the Convention.
You can’t take away rights contained in the Convention without amending the whole thing. You can’t do that unilaterally! All that you can do is opt out of it altogether. This would isolate us from every nation in Europe apart from Belarus –
In short, it is nothing to do with the Human Rights Act.
The Government say they want to change the Act to prevent prosecutions of soldiers. The decision to prosecute is made by the Crown Prosecution Service. If they think that there are reasonable grounds to bring criminal proceedings, then that is a mater for them. Is the government saying that a member of the armed forces who commits a crime, thought by the CPS to justify prosecution, should be immune?
The reality is that no change in our law is required. There are enough checks and balances to ensure that there are no ‘frivolous’ prosecutions.
This is an unfortunate gimmick to earn tabloid headlines.
There is no attempt at all to address the real problems that are dragging out system into the ground.