The Government is getting itself in a state over Human Rights - again.
This is nothing new. It doesn’t seem to matter which party is in power. Politicians do not like Human Rights to get in their way –
Two recent events have brought this subject back into the news. The first was the deportation of Abu Qatada to Jordan after years of legal wrangling. Home Secretary Teresa May complained that it had taken 12 years and £1.2m in legal costs to get what they wanted. This has again led to familiar rhetoric about the need to reconsider our whole relationship with Europe and even to pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights altogether. Politicians seem to be comfortable in coming out with these statements despite the fact that the Convention was driven by the UK and largely drafted by UK lawyers –
But the problem with Abu Qatada was fairly straightforward. We could not deport somebody who might face trial based on evidence obtained by torture. We have to be consistent here. If we maintain that torture is never justified, then we cannot make an exception just because we do not like the potential victim. Abu Qatada did not go until after we were re-assured that there would be no reliance on evidence obtained by torture. So why did we not focus on that from the start?
Next we have had the decision from Strasbourg that whole life prison sentences breach Article 3 of the convention because they constitute punishment which is inhuman or degrading. Both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice have expressed their dismay.
But again if we look closely at the decision it makes eminent sense. The court has not said that anybody should be released. What they have said is that is not acceptable that a prisoner should be deprived of ever having an opportunity to argue that they no longer present a danger to society. It is the loss of the right to be heard which is inhuman or degrading. Prisoners might still spend the rest of their days behind bars. The court has explained its decision as follows-
‘Prisoners must …have the possibility of arguing that at some point, after a lengthy period in prison, their detention is no longer necessary in the interests of punishment, deterrence and protection of the public and that their release would be justified on grounds of rehabilitation.’
The European Convention contains our basic human rights. I do wish that the government would stop coming out with statements which attack those rights just because particular decisions do not go their way. I notice that they never say which of my particular rights they plan to abolish..