Passing thoughts on the Human Rights Act

Considering the traditional protections against the state that the individual has enjoyed in this country, I would mention off the top of my head; the right to a jury trial; the presumption of innocence; habeas corpus; the right to remain silent; the protection against double jeopardy; the right to self-defence.

I ask you; which of these was introduced by New Labour’s Human Rights Act? Of course, the answer is none. Rather these protections were established, through struggle and sacrifice, many centuries ago, notwithstanding how often they have been imperfectly upheld.

Not only do these protections predate the Human Rights Act, the very people so proud to have authored that legislation were during their time in government undermining and dismantling these age-old protections. It was New Labour that abolished the rule against double jeopardy and tried to limit jury trials. It was New Labour that sought to extend the period of incarceration without trial to three months, as well as implementing the European Arrest Warrant, both of which measures constitute a direct attack on habeas corpus. In all manner of ways, New Labour showed contempt for these traditional protections.

It should not be forgotten for a moment that this same contempt runs through our new government, as it ran through the government that preceded New Labour. As ever the case, only on the fringes of the major parties do you find people prepared to defend these rights, or recognise their significance, and it is upon these people we must depend to hold back the tide of authoritarian legislation.

It seems now the government is backing off its plan to scrap the Human Rights Act, wary that it may not be able to make up the numbers in Parliament. To the extent that this indicates the weakness of the government, it is a good thing. As the above indicates, I do not believe that the Human Rights Act is necessary to protect our freedom. Rather, the degree to which it serves any purpose marks the degree to which our old and better rights have been taken from us.


  1. The “Human Rights Act” (and the European Convention on “rights”) does not support things that really are rights – such as Freedom of Speech (violated by the 1965 Act and so on) and the right to keep and bear arms.

    Instead the courts use it to enforce such “rights” as the “right” of criminals to say in the United Kingdom, or the “right” of criminals in prison to vote.

    And on and on.

    The European Convention – and the United Nations Convention (written in part by E.H. Carr and Harold Laski – both vile), sound wonderful – but they are actually terrible. The Devil is in the details.



  2. When the HRA came in, I read an interview in the Times with the person who drafted the Bill. She was reported as saying that she hoped that the HRA would become a substitute for God.

    Insofar as I was able to make sense of the plans to ‘scrap’ the HRA, the plan seems to be to continue to give effect to its provisions by re-enacting them in the replacement Act, so changing the bottle but not the beer, but also giving the UK’s Supreme Court (a deliberately chosen name for what should be the ‘Final Court’, it’s name implying some form of judicial oversight of Parliament aux USA, as opposed to its oversight under EU law) the final say in its interpretation. The Conservative Party manifesto stated:

    “We will scrap the Human Rights Act
    We will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights which will restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK� The Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights� It will protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which are an essential part of a modern democratic society� But it will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society� Among other things the Bill will stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation�”

    All very vague and pointless. Note the inclusion of the word ‘spurious’ before ‘human rights arguments’, so ‘well-founded’ arguments (as found by the judiciary based on precedent) will still prevail. Quite how a fair trial (note, not a jury trial) is an essential part of a modern democratic society is opaque. The ‘mission creep’ is in the main, judicial interpretation of the provisions of the HRA, so nothing will change, unless under the new Act, precedent were to be directed to be disregarded, and wholesale provisions setting out what should be precedent were included. AFAIK, that would be ‘unprecedented’.



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