I Don't Want This Human Rights Waffle - and I'm a Lawyer

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), October 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

I Don't Want This Human Rights Waffle - and I'm a Lawyer


Byline: GAVIN ARGENT

Tomorrow sees the coming into force of the Human Rights Act 1998, yet another of this Government's much-heralded constitutional reforms.

Barristers in England and Wales were provided with the opportunity to attend two-day conferences on the Act. Although not compulsory, the Director of Public Prosecutions has stated that no barrister who wishes to prosecute for the Crown Prosecution Service after tomorrow will be considered unless he/she has completed the course.

I attended a conference in London and came away a little worried and profoundly unimpressed. Some delegates were clearly wondering what all the fuss was about, although many of those attending (particularly among the younger delegates) were eager to see how far this Act could be used to push the frontiers of acceptable behaviour to their social limits.

But the questions kept coming: What on earth is the point of this new law?

Where, practically, is it going to lead us? Aren't we going round in circles?

The Act has its roots in the Second World War. Stunned by the atrocities committed during the conflict, the great and the good of Europe got together in the late Forties and formulated the Human Rights Convention. It seemed the answer to such things as the Holocaust was to give everybody plenty of basic human rights. The convention's 18 Articles, and latterly six protocols, would make sure there was no repetition of such barbarism.

Britain ratified it in 1951, and promptly forgot all about it. Fifty years later the Labour Government is now imposing this Convention on the longsuffering British people, already overwhelmed by recent constitutional reform.

What does the Human Rights Act do? It imposes yet another layer of law on us and on every law passed in England and Wales in the future.

It also means laws already on the statute book have to be 'compatible' with the Convention. I don't need to tell you the legal profession will be making a lot of money interpreting the concepts behind such words.

I wonder whether it is, in reality, a charter for waffle, something which can be manipulated by scoundrels to mean all things to all men?

How will it affect you? Trials will be longer as defendants claim their human rights have been infringed and therefore they are incapable of receiving a fair hearing. Moreover, they can claim that an old conviction was unfair or unsafe because their trial was flawed under the Act.

There's no time limit.

What about that conviction for larceny of dung which Mr X got in the Thirties? He always maintained it was an injustice. …

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I Don't Want This Human Rights Waffle - and I'm a Lawyer
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