Theresa You’re Wrong

by Beth Cherryman

The Human Rights Act is far from perfect, but proposals to scrap it are misguided.

The idea that everyone should be treated in a way that does not undermine his or her status as a human being adheres to our moral intuitions: people should be respected as people and in this sense we are all equal.  These two principles, the essence of the Human Rights Act and all Human Rights legislation, are what make it necessary.

Where problems arise is in its application. Theresa May’s attacks are just the latest in a parade of examples designed to question the Act’s credibility. Yes, it seems ridiculous to drive a prison van 96 miles only to transport a prisoner a little way up the same road, but then how far can a prisoner be made to walk out in public before his safety becomes compromised? How far would that be if his crimes were particularly provocative? How far if he lived in a country with a less advanced police service?

As a theoretical construct the Human Rights Act has to be general. It has to be applicable to all humans everywhere. Therefore, there will always be specific instances that seem to contradict commonsense.

I agree that to bring Human Rights legislation more in line with our existing legal framework could make its application less clumsy.

But the challenge of keeping true to the essence of the present Act is too great to warrant such country specific changes. The risk of political interference or judicial entrenchment prohibits it.

Currently, if anyone of us feels failed or unfairly treated by the British courts there is a process that we can appeal to for a second hearing. For example, where British courts have traditionally prioritised the right to privacy over the right to freedom of expression, the European Court of Human Rights often prioritises freedom of expression over privacy. Without freedom of expression, the power of a free press is severely undermined.

Moreover, should the UK break from the pack and bow out of the Human Rights Act the pressure for other European countries to get themselves up to acceptable standards could ease. That would be very regrettable, especially considering the promotion of Human Rights, albeit in select countries, seems to be this government’s foreign policy.

The Human Rights Act may give the Home Secretary a bit of a headache, but that’s no reason to scrap it.