Site Meter

Saturday, August 06, 2011

United the Council of Europe stands: Divided the UK falls

United the Council of Europe stands: Divided the UK falls

Yesterday I was working on my submission to the UK Bill of Rights Commission, in response to its recently published discussion paper, and one of my strong criticisms relates to Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky's appointment to the Commission. I allege that he is a fraud, and to support my claim I refer to the video and transcript of his testimony before the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Now Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky has gone running to the press to launch an unjustified attack upon the UK Bill of Rights Commission. It would appear that he is spitting out his dummy because the UK Bill of Rights Commission is not allowing him to dictate the agenda.

Let's look first at the headline:

"Human rights reform panel 'won't confront' power of Euro judges".

Given that the jurisdiction of the Court and power of the judges of the European Court of Human Rights emanates from the Council of Europe it is wise not to tread on their toes. The UK does not have the power to challenge the jurisdiction of the Court, so it follows that the UK Bill of Rights Commission does not have the power to challenge. The Court rightly exercises independence. If it was to be influenced by the politically appointed UK Bill of Rights Commission, the remaining 46 Member States of the Council of Europe would rightly be up in arms at this usurping power grab by just this one country.

"The panel set up to reform human rights laws was denounced as a ‘stitch up’ last night after it refused to confront the key issue of the power over British cases wielded by European judges".

Whatever the right wing media interpretation, and politicians off the cuff remarks, the UK Bill of Rights Commission has published its terms of reference:

“To investigate the creation of a UK Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in UK law, and protects and extends our liberties.

“To examine the operation and implementation of these obligations, and consider ways to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties.

“To provide advice to the Government on the ongoing Interlaken process to reform the Strasbourg court ahead of and following the UK’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe.

“To consult, including with the public, judiciary and devolved administrations and legislatures, and aim to report no later than by the end of 2012.”

Clearly, it states "and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights". Two of these obligations are a) abide by the Articles of the Convention, and b) abide by the ECtHR decisions. Therefore, there is no room for any confrontation with the Court's jurisdiction. The UK signed up to the Convention, including the right of individual petition, therefore it follows that the ECtHR will have the jurisdiction over cases decided in the UK courts. The reality is that the UK cannot be trusted to protect the human rights of unpopular groups within society. The evidence is the Prisoners Votes Case, Hirst v UK (No2).

"The commission was established by David Cameron following outrage over a string of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights – including its insistence that Britain gives prison inmates the vote".

It would help matters if knee-jerking politicians did not make false promises such as scrapping the Human Rights Act 1998. I don't recall any public outrage. There was attempts by the right wing media to create a storm. I do recall public outrage over MPs expenses fiddling and media phone hacking. Given that I won the case against the UK in court and the UK lost, it is only right that the ECtHR is insistent that the UK fully complies with the judgment and abides by its obligations under international law.

"Yet the commission has already run into criticism from one of its most senior members for publishing a discussion paper which ignores Britain’s relationship with the Court.

Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, said he ‘strongly regretted’ that the paper, the panel’s first major publication, did not even mention the row over voting rights for prisoners.

Critics claimed the omission showed that the panel was a fix".

The UK Bill of Rights Commission is not made up of senior and junior members, all members have the same rank save for its chairman. If anything, Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky was appointed by the political shenanigans of the likes of the Tory Dominic Raab MP, and he is really only a bum on a seat to make up the numbers. His weakness is that he is not a lawyer and human rights expert, but instead calls himself a political scientist (whatever that might mean). The UK's relationship with the Court is the same as the other 46 Member States of the Council of Europe, that is, one judge is appointed from each of the countries.

It shows how out of touch Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky is when he complains that the UK Bill of Rights Commission's paper did not refer to the row over voting rights for prisoners. My question is, why should it? It is for the ECtHR to decide this issue and for the UK to implement its judgment. The row caused by the right wing media and ignorant politicians is irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant is that I challenged the UK, legally, on a point of law, in a court of law and the UK lost. Live with it. Either Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky should do the honourable thing and resign on a matter of principle, or he should be sacked.

We already know that the UK Bill of Rights Commission is a fix. It was set up to buy the Prime Minister some time until the next general election. It is not that the omission showed that the panel was a fix. The omission is displaying common sense.

"The Commission on a Bill of Rights was set up by the Prime Minister after the Strasbourg Court refused to reconsider its judgment that prisoners must have the vote by October this year, despite MPs voting overwhelmingly against such a step".

On 30 March 2004 the Chamber handed down its judgment. The UK appealed against this to the Grand Chamber and it was reconsidered but the appeal was rejected on 6 October 2005. The UK can huff and puff and bluster all it likes, but it makes no odds. In Greens and MT v UK the Court laid down a 6 month deadline for the UK to amend the law to give convicted prisoners the vote. The unlawful motion, "debate" and vote by MPs to retain the ban on prisoner voting was treated with the contempt it deserved and was dismissed by the Court as an attempt to undermine its lawful authority to decide the issue.

"Dr Pinto-Duschinsky also criticised the discussion paper for including a ‘tendentious’ interpretation of the Human Rights Act, suggesting it had not undermined the sovereignty of Parliament".

As already pointed out Dr Pinto-Duschinsky is not a lawyer therefore he is not in a position to criticise lawyers interpretation of the HRA. In other words, he doesn't know what he is talking about. The HRA compromised citizens human rights in favour of sovereignty of Parliament. The problem is that the UK when signing up to the Convention sacrificed some of its sovereignty of Parliament. No country can join a collective and demand to be totally independent. Any country which desires to be fully sovereign is free not to sign up in the first place and is free to withdraw if it does not like the arrangement. What the UK will not be allowed to get away with is signing up to take the benefits but exclude itself from any drawbacks. It's give and take.

"In the statement, which Mr Cameron made to Parliament in February, he said: ‘The commission we are establishing to look at a British Bill of Rights will be established imminently because I think it’s about time we started making sure decisions are made in this Parliament rather than in the courts’."

My understanding is that at least since King Charles the First was beheaded by Parliament, decisions have been made by Parliament. However, since we joined up to the Council of Europe and EU such decisions must not run contrary to European law. If they do then UK law is subservient to European law. Cameron is not a lawyer and all he is doing is showing his complete ignorance. He can be summed up as being not fit for purpose.

"Backbench Tory MP Douglas Carswell said: ‘This has been fixed in such a way that the commission can only look at giving judges and human rights lawyers additional power.

‘They are not looking at substituting the power of the European Court. It’s a fix, it’s a stitch up and it’s further evidence that we can have no confidence in the final outcome.

‘The Government needs to do what it promised’."

Douglas Carswell is not a lawyer but a historian. His mind is stuck in the past. As a historian he is aware that the British Empire is long dead and gone. We now have the European Empire, a collection of States. The UK Bill of Rights Commission would beome an even bigger farce than it already is if it attempted substituting the power of the European Court. It is not so much a question of demanding that the Government needs to do what it promised. For a start, we have a Coalition. The Tory party did make some pre-election promises. However, even if the Tory party succeeded in getting an overall majority it could not deliver on this false promise. Perhaps, MPs should be focussing instead on David Cameron's blatant lies?

"Britain takes over the presidency of the European Council – the governing body of the court – in November, and ministers have pledged to use that as an opportunity for reform".

The UK takes over Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers in November. However, the ECtHR, because of its independence, is self-governing. For 10 years the ECtHR has been undergoing reform and part of this is down to the Interlaken process. What keeps being ignored by the UK is that this process also requires reforms in Member States. One such reform being demanded is that Member States abide by the Convention and Court decisions.

"Blair Gibbs of the Policy Exchange think-tank said: ‘This Commission needs to have all options on the table and not to be ducking the difficult issue.

‘The conduct and powers of the Strasbourg Court are at the heart of the problem of human rights’."

As I have just pointed out it is the UK which is ducking the difficult issue. The problem of human rights is that they are meaningless if they cannot be enforced. The Labour administration ducked the issue for over 5 years, and neither the Tories nor the LibDems challenged them on it. Rupert Murdoch was wrong to advise that the UK ignored the issue. Because the Council of Europe will not ignore the UK's breach of human rights. The time has come to hold the UK to account.

No comments: