Site Meter

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Adam Wagner: A reminder ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’

Adam Wagner: A reminder ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’

The American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935) stated ‘If you want to know the law and nothing else, you must look at it as a bad man’. I welcomed the Human Rights Act 1998, and read a couple of lawyers text guide on the Act which highlighted the Act’s weaknesses. I also read the government’s guide to the Act, and its implications for public authorities. The problem with ‘Lock them up and throw away the key, and forget about them’, is that the government failed to consider the benefit of the Act for prisoners. From a Prison Law Inside Out perspective, it was wide open for an Article 10 ECHR freedom of expression challenge to claim the human right for prisoners to phone the media. Killing two birds with one stone, within the case was a challenge to claim the human right to form an Association of Prisoners under Article 11. Then in a separate case, I claimed the human right for prisoners to vote under Article 3 of the First Protocol. We are told, by the government, after 5 years, that they are still looking for the best way forward to fully comply with the ECtHR judgment in Hirst v UK (No2).

Given that recently the government said the same thing to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and that the CoM stated that they did not believe what the government said, it will come as no surprise that I take this with a pinch of salt:

Lord McNally, the minister of state for justice, has told the Liberal Democrat Party conference that the Justice Ministry is looking at the Human Rights Act, not to “see how we can diminish it”, but so it can be “better understood and appreciated.”

The Act came into force in October 2000, that’s almost 10 years in which to better understand and appreciate it! Certain elements within the media opposed the Act from the outset, and headlines and editorials in The Sun and Daily Mail had certain politicians knee-jerking to their hidden agenda. Then there were the judges who acted as goalkeeper to the Secretary of State and adopted the ‘hands-off’ doctrine, and those who abdicated responsibility by showing deference to Parliament when it was their job to reach a judicial decision and not a political one.

For me, the Act would be better understood and appreciated if it wasn’t in the embarrassing position of being itself incompatible with the Convention.

Over to you Adam…

No comments: