Gareld Warner Fears the Act Will Become a Cranks' Charter Bringing Widespread Resentment
Byline: GERALD WARNER
TODAY the European Convention on Human Rights comes fully into force, both north and south of the Border. It is a significant milestone in the integration of British institutions into the European social order, but it is doubtful if many people will regard it as a change for the better.
There is a widespread misconception that it will have a bigger impact in England than in Scotland. In fact, although the Convention has been incorporated into the Scottish legal system for 16 months, it has also been employed as a basis of legal argument in courts throughout the rest of the UK, so there is not much discrepancy.
In Scotland, it has not been a happy experience. The case of Noel Ruddle, the convicted killer released from Carstairs, first brought the Convention into prominence. As the Scottish Executive rushed through a special law to keep Ruddle behind bars, it was argued that any legislation allowing people to be detained indefinitely flouted the Convention. The Executive persevered and the law was passed. But this issue remains a ticking timebomb.
Then the Executive discovered that bail would have to be made available, even in cases as serious as alleged rape and murder. So far, the discretionary exercise of common sense by magistrates has averted the threat of possible murderers walking free - but the loophole is there and it is only a matter of time before it is exploited.
Apologists for the Convention emphasise that only 14 out of 560 legal challenges brought under it have been upheld. But, apart from that being arguably 14 too many and that the number will increase, what about the waste of time and money involved in the failed 546 cases?
Whatever the pros and cons of Scotland's early experience of the purely legal aspects of the Convention, today we are due to be struck by the full gale-force as its scope is extended to dominate every walk of life. Schools, hospitals, local authorities - all will be at its mercy.
Its precise operation remains to be seen but it certainly carries the potential to inflict huge damage on society. Take a good school, for example, where morale is high, discipline sound and academic attainment first class.
One of the features of this model school is likely to be the wearing of a uniform.
If the liberal parents of one child object to this 'imposition' there is every likelihood that, under the Convention, the school would be forbidden from insisting on the wearing of uniform. That, in turn, would lead to other pupils rejecting the official dress code. But if only some people wear uniform, the whole purpose of the exercise is frustrated.
It is a fair bet such a relaxation would have a knock-on effect on other areas of school life and - hey presto! - within five years a centre of academic excellence will have degenerated into a sink comprehensive. …