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Friday, March 16, 2012

Rights Gone Wrong?

Rights Gone Wrong?

Rights Gone Wrong is couched as a question: it’s a documentary to explore the roots of British human rights, the cornerstone of fairness, and the muddying influence of European law.

BBC Journalist Andrew Neil is tasked with travelling to parts of the UK, and then to Europe, to ask people why the British justice system is in ruin. Neil, who wears a selection of beguiling, continental scarves throughout, is on a crusade to restore faith in human rights to Britain.

Assumptions are made from the outset. The accepted belief is the British public is fed up with Europe because thanks to the court in Strasbourg, Abu Qatada stays in Britain, crooks can’t appear on Wanted posters and prisoners can vote (although this has yet to be enforced).

Sensationalist newspaper clippings slope onto the screen – “End the human rights farce” – and onto this Neil slathers emotive phrases to signpost the viewer towards his thinking – that Britain should usurp Europe with its own bill of human rights. That Europe is troublesome.

“I love Europe,” says Neil as he takes a sip of champagne and raises an eyebrow. He leans in: “But have we been lumbered with Europe’s zealous obsession with human rights?” It’s language to plant the seed – another idea disguised as a question.

He shows the fall out of European justice: a man whose daughter was run over by an asylum seeker from Kurdistan who, once he’d served his jail term, remained in the UK. This is because Strasbourg had ruled his marriage to a Briton gave him the right to a family life over here. And yes, the scenario is bitterly unfair – the camera lens sweeps over a graveyard and onto the father who asks “What about my right to a family life?” – but there is a distinct lack of balance here and the overall good Europe does in regulating human rights is left largely unaddressed.

On with the crusade. Neil travels to Strasbourg, to “the heart of darkness” as he calls it, and reveals how other countries like Russia and Italy ignore the court’s rulings while Britain is a stickler for the rules and gets lumbered with the law.

The documentary trumpets the potency and heritage of justice in Britain – there’s a snippet played of Winston Churchill talking about human rights -“A rose out of the ashes of the second world war” – and later, a scene where Neil clutches a photocopy of the Magna Carta wrapped in ribbon and strides through the English countryside.

He reaches a historian who’s stood nearby and plucks out a line from the Magna Carta scroll that says a person can’t be imprisoned without trial. It is evidence of Britain’s long-held commitment to fairness. It paves the way for Neil’s argument for autonomy. The historian tells him ruling powers would ignore this clause when they felt like it.

The documentary isn’t correctly labelled. Rights Gone Wrong? might be “Andrew Neil’s Vision For Justice” – or at least a title without a question mark. Neil doesn’t grapple with the truth, he lays on his own ideas. By the end he’d have you believe human rights law is in the grips of disaster and only British justice can save the day.

Watch the BBC 2 documentary on iPlayer here.

Last Night's Viewing: Rights Gone Wrong?

I do hope someone kept the Wanted poster. At the beginning of Rights Gone Wrong – a rapid-response documentary about the controversial nature of some recent rulings from the European Court of Human Rights – Andrew Neil illustrated some of the wilder stories that had made it into the papers, including the suggestions that a kitten had prevented a criminal's deportation and that a police force hadn't publicised a suspect's picture for fear of breaching his human rights. Cue a mocked-up Police Appeal for Assistance bearing the features of the Daily Politics presenter, a man who has repeatedly breached his own right to dignity in the pursuit of televisual novelty. I still have sweaty flashbacks of him and Portillo doing a cover of "(Is This the Way to) Amarillo" for the 2005 election coverage.

Rights Gone Wrong?, BBC Two, review
Did Andrew Neil prove that human rights laws are failing us? James Walton reviews BBC Two's timely documentary.

1 comment:

Tim said...

I felt a bit sorry for Neil when you were trying to educate him on the issue.

His face was going red and he started spluttering because he couldn't understand that the opinions of politicians and Sun readers don't trump the decision of the court.