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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cameron: Hirst test or Daily Mail test?

Cameron: Hirst test or Daily Mail test?

During the mid 1960s there were several high profile escapes from prison, for example, the Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, the spy George Blake, and the Mad Axeman Frankie Mitchell. The media had a field day. The government was embarrassed. It was decided to appoint Lord Mountbatten to conduct an inquiry into prison security and escapes. He subsequently published the draconian Mountbatten Report. One of the problems identified was a group of approximately 120 prisoners.

According to David Cameron today we are living in a Broken Society. Part of the cause, it is claimed, is down to approximately 120,000 troubled families.

There was no rioting and looting in David Cameron's constituency of Witney in Oxfordshire, nevertheless he chose this venue to give his speech to the nation. Quite a bit of the scatter-brained speech, including many sound-bites, was shamelessly lifted from Tony Blair. The last thing this country needs is a Tone clone.

According to the Daily Mail's Stephen Glover, Britain's future (and his own) rests on Mr Cameron dismantling the pernicious Human Rights Act.

I think we shall call this the Daily Mail test. In my sidebar you will notice there already exists a Hirst test. To pass my test David Cameron must fail the Daily Mail test.

One crucial test of this government’s good intentions is whether, as Mr Cameron intimated yesterday, it will get to grips with the Human Rights Act. He said it was ‘working to develop a way through the morass by looking at creating our own Bill of Rights’, before adding that ‘we will be using our own chairmanship of the Council of Europe to seek agreement to important operational changes to the European Convention on Human Rights’.

The malign influence of the Convention extends far beyond last week’s civil unrest. Hundreds of foreign prisoners, including some murderers, have been allowed to remain in this country after release from jail on the grounds that they have a right to a ‘family life’ in Britain. The Government has also been told it cannot deport known terrorists.

Almost unbelievably, only a few months ago a prisoner sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment for burglary and dangerous driving was released after one month because judges declared that his human rights had been breached.

No less disturbingly, the European Court of Human Rights has insisted that the Government must grant prisoners the right to vote, and continues to do so despite our elected legislature, the House of Commons, having voted by a whopping majority of 212 against the proposal.

It takes little imagination - as Mr Cameron is evidently aware - to see how the Human Rights Act might be used by canny and unscrupulous lawyers to undermine new measures intended to uphold law and order. I expect some of them are already dreaming of how they will spend the extra proceeds.

For example, the Prime Minister’s idea that social media be shut down during disturbances might be challenged under the Act. Plans to withdraw welfare benefits from convicted rioters, or to force people to remove face masks during civil unrest, might well also be resisted.

As it happens, I have severe reservations about the idea that culprits and their families be thrown out of their council houses, because it seems wrong to penalise innocent people — say a looter’s parent or child — for the crimes of another person. We may be sure that this proposal would also be challenged under the Human Rights Act.

These and other measures introduced by our elected representatives to deal with our own social problems could fall foul of the Act as it stands. Mr Cameron’s apparent intention to do something is welcome, but in view of his many previous so-far-unfilled commitments to replace the Act, it is difficult not to be a little sceptical.

Even yesterday his phrasing was ambiguous. On the one hand the Government is ‘looking at creating our own Bill of Rights’ (a bit evasive, I’m afraid to say) while on the other it is going ‘to seek agreement to important operational changes to the European Convention on Human Rights’. Doing both at the same time hardly makes sense.

Will he do either? Mr Cameron’s problem is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to rein in the European Court while remaining part of the Convention. The inescapable logic is to withdraw, and create our own Bill of Rights, but that is not a measure which Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are likely to support.

For the Lib Dems are great fans of the European Convention, partly because it is European, and partly because they strongly approve of codifying Human Rights. They take little notice of Lord Carlisle, a Lib Dem peer and authority on terrorism, who has said Britain’s inability to deport dangerous terrorists on account of the Act has led to a growing threat to public safety.

Here is the nub of the problem. Speaking on home turf in his Oxfordshire constituency, Mr Cameron was able to sound bold, and to refer to the kind of changes he would like to bring about. But when he returns to the real world he will find he is opposed by Mr Clegg and his timid crew on the Human Rights Act, as well as on many other issues.

My only hope is that the Prime Minister was not cynically appealing to a gallery full of Tories, tossing some ideas in their direction to make them feel good, while knowing in his heart that very few of his proposals will be acceptable to his Lib Dem colleagues.

I would like to think, at what is still a very dark hour for our country, that he not only believes what he said but that he is determined to introduce the reforms that he knows are needed — stronger policing, more discipline in schools and measures to strengthen the family. Much of this, of course, will not be possible unless he deals first with the Human Rights Act.

David Cameron is likely to be frustrated by his Coalition partners, and also held back by a conservative and naturally cautious civil service. The task he outlined yesterday for himself and the Government is immense.

It is not too much to say that not only his political future, but this country’s future as well, rests on his determination to do what he said must be done.

What kind of future would it be for Britain if the First Minister was able to do away with citizens human rights by simply scrapping the Human Rights Act 1998?

I don't care whether David Cameron has a political future or not. I do care about whether the people of this country have human rights. The whole purpose of the European Convention on Human Rights is to prevent State abuse of power. It was as a result of Hitler's unchecked power, which led to 6,000,000 human beings being exterminated in gas chambers, that the Convention came into being. It is supposed to guarantee to the citizens within Member States of the Council of Europe and European Union the human rights contained within the Articles of the Convention. However, this guarantee is dependent upon Member States honouring their obligations under the Convention to abide by the Articles and abide by the European Court of Human Rights decisions. In other words, our rights are dependent upon the State acting responsibily. One of the obligations which the State has failed to fulfill is the requirement to icorporate the Convention into domestic law.

So, rather than scrapping the HRA, as the Daily Mail is demanding, it requires amending to make it Convention compliant. For example, the HRA does not include Articles 1 and 13 of the Convention. This means that the human rights are neither guaranteed nor enforceable in the courts. Our rights have been sacrificed to uphold the doctrine of the Supremacy of Parliament. In spite of us being told that MPs represent the electorate, the reality is that our rights are dependent upon the discretion of Parliament. In effect, all we get are the crumbs off their table.

Thankfully, the electorate chose not to trust the Tory party with full power. So far the Tory idea of scrapping the HRA has been frustrated. Under Labour the HRA is only the first step. It is high time that the media and politicians stopped lying to the public over the issue of human rights. The future of those without human rights ended in the gas chambers. We need to examine the motives of those seeking to scrap our human rights. What are the hidden agendas of David Cameron and the Daily Mail? The public needs to provide the balances and checks against abuse of power.

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