A EURO LAW; Labour's Obsession with Incorporating European Human Rights Laws into Our Legal System Threatens to Undermine Every Aspect of British Life

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Byline: EDWARD HEATHCOAT AMORY

THE SLAPSTICK comedy government in Westminster has got Britain into another fine mess. Carried away by its desire to suck up to the rest of Europe, it has rushed the Human Rights Act through Parliament.

This catchall legislation means that, from October, any British law that doesn't conform to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is illegal, and open to challenge in the courts. What, asked New Labour when it came to power, could possibly be wrong with that?

Now it is finding out. In Scotland, where the ECHR has already been incorporated in law, the result has been a total shambles.

The Scottish legal system, which has survived largely unchanged through 300 years of union with England, has been left in embarrassing disarray. One of Edinburgh's most senior judges, Lord McCluskey, has described the change as providing 'a field day for crackpots, a pain in the neck for judges, and a goldmine for lawyers'. Among the farcical scenes has been the sacking of 126 temporary Scottish sheriffs - junior judges - because they were appointed by a minister and therefore not impartial.

Criminals sentenced by them can now ask for retrials.

It has also emerged that the authorities may no longer be able to confiscate drug barons' financial assets.

Prison staff will have fewer rights to interfere with mail or listen to telephone conversations.

One drunk-driver who confessed saw her case overturned because the officers who asked if she was driving had contravened her right to silence.

Police stop and search powers and their ability to enter suspects' homes are also under threat.

In Scotland, this 'criminals' charter' has completely undermined the legal system. In England and Wales, every day reveals another area where existing law and practice could be challenged.

NOW IT seems that the ability of private schools to stop pupils over 16 from engaging in sex - gay or heterosexual - could also be hampered by the right to privacy. Headteachers may lose their right to inquire into pupils' sex lives.

Lawyers disagree over whether this legislation will have this effect, but their very confusion is itself worrying because all these uncertainties must be tested in court.

If the Scottish experience is anything to go by, England's several hundred temporary judges - chosen by the Lord Chancellor - may also have to be sacked since they are political appointees.

Undoubtedly, ministers have yet to anticipate the scale of the problem.

As in so many other areas, they proceeded with a major legislative change without thinking through the implications.

Jack Straw tells us not to panic. But is this wise considering he has introduced a law which may fatally undermine our legal system?

HUNDREDS of our existing laws will - expensively - be challenged under the Convention, but only two results are certain. First, human rights lawyers will become very, very rich.

Cherie Booth QC, the Prime Minister's wife, has even set up a new set of barrister's chambers, Matrix, to exploit this bonanza.

The other, more serious, effect is that our judges will be compromised by involvement in politics. Until now, there has been a clear separation in Britain between the politicians who make the law, and the judges who rule on it.

But decisions on the rights and wrongs of highly political pieces of legislation will, under the new Act, be made by judges, not politicians.

There will be wide scope for personal political opinion to influence the decisions they make.

Inevitably, governments will start to appoint judges on whose political support they can rely, and our judiciary will no longer be independent.

Of course, Home Secretary Jack Straw will say that none of this was meant to happen. He was just trying to 'do the right thing', endear us to our EU friends and, after all, none of us disagrees with human rights. …