A quick post on human rights

Today the Conservatives published their long-promised proposals for the replacement of the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, although their thunder was stolen somewhat by early publication of the announcement yesterday at Jack of Kent.

There has been plenty of speculation about what such a bill might contain, especially since David Cameron sacked Dominic Grieve as Attorney General. The assumption – which is looking increasingly accurate – was that Grieve was a serious impediment to moving the agenda forward simply by virtue of the fact that he understands and supports international law and human rights law, and the rule of law more broadly. So he had to go.

In the right wing press today Chris Grayling’s proposals have been warmly received. The proposals are combative in tone and make all sorts of noises about stopping judges from interfering from outside the UK, curtailing rights, and linking the exercise of rights to fulfilment of responsibilities. The press has been characterising this as ending the human rights “madness” and reasserting the sovereignty of the UK Parliament.

Commentary in the liberal press has been of a rather different flavour, and the more right-leaning press is by no means entirely supportive.

For all Chris Grayling’s posturing and for all the fanfare of a concerned campaign of media spin, it is, however, less clear what difference the proposals would or could make in practice. It may be, as Jonathan Freedland has argued, that achieving real difference in the law isn’t the primary objective.  [Read more...]

Liberal Democrats and #DRIP: naïve or nefarious?

The enemies of liberty

The enemies of liberty

The sudden appearance of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill and the proposal to bulldoze it through Parliament in a few days has set off alarm bells for many who care about civil liberties.

Members of the Liberal Democrat leadership and Parliamentary party have been out and about pressing a three stranded argument to try to counter the view that their support for this Bill represents a complete abandonment of the party’s principles.

The three strands are that:

  • The Bill does no more than re-establish the status quo ante, following the adverse ECJ ruling on the legality of the previous legal framework.
  • The Bill therefore does not represent an extension of powers and is in no way comparable to the Snoopers’ Charter that the party rightly opposed only a few months ago.
  • The party has won valuable concessions in terms of constraints on, and oversight of, snooping activity, which would not have happened without hard work on the part of the Liberal Democrats. These concessions include a sunset clause to repeal the Bill in December 2016.

It seems appropriate to make three points in response. [Read more...]

Values and rights

diversity in unity - multicultural childrenIt may be little more than an uncharacteristic outbreak of optimism on my part, but it seems to me that discussion in the corner of the internet that I inhabit is taking a turn towards the philosophical. And that’s no bad thing.

Two developments make me say this.

The first is the advent of the May-Grayling pre-emptive strike on human rights law over the weekend. The precise details of what it is the gruesome twosome wish the UK to withdraw from keep shifting. But the more lurid version entails the withdrawal of the UK from the ECHR and ECtHR, the abolition of the Human Rights Act, and stepping away from the ECJ and the EU. The UK would then presumably return to an era in which we should all be thankful for any day that goes by when we’re spared inhuman or degrading treatment meted out by our betters with impugnity.

Whether or not this type of threat/promise means very much is debatable. Delivering us to this Daily Mail-inspired Elysium would be contingent on the next election delivering a Conservative majority. And that doesn’t look all that likely. [Read more...]

Nick Boles and the philosophy of the garden

To what sorts of things do people have moral rights? That’s a profound question worthy of more than a mere blog post.

We could turn to the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for inspiration. We’ll see an aspirational list of rights which still, more than 60 years after its adoption, many countries fail to deliver in full. In that list at number three we have:

  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Now we know that “liberty” and its realisation is a complex concept. It can, though, incorporate access to adequate housing as a foundation for personal development and security.

But we needn’t try to use Article 3 to cover the issue. We’ve got further resources to draw on when thinking about housing. [Read more...]

Could the riots be the beginning of the end for the Coalition?

Today I was idly wondering whether the way in which the Government responds to last week’s riots could turn out to be pivotal for the Coalition. Possibly the beginning of the end. Why might that be? I was pondering what makes Liberal Democrats distinctive.

If you think about Liberal Democrats on a left-right political axis then the Party’s identity is perhaps rather indistinct. It encompasses a broad range of opinion. It stretches from the left of the Social Liberal Forum, which would appear to share common ground with the remnants of the left wing of the Labour party or the Green party, to Liberal Vision and beyond which occupy parts of the political spectrum where it is hard to tell a Liberal from a Libertarian at twenty paces.

But if you look at the Liberal Democrats on the authoritarian-liberal axis then they are hugely distinctive from the other major parties, which share a strong authoritarian streak (although Labour is perhaps less clear what it thinks on this point than it might appear, as discussed here on Liberal Conspiracy today). The only party that comes close to the Liberal Democrats on questions of human rights and civil liberties is the Green party. The only comparable area of divergence between the Liberal Democrats and the other major parties might be constitutional reform.

This is, I think, why things might start to unravel. [Read more...]