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They got what they wished for

In 1998 the Human Rights Act swept in on a bow wave of heady expectation. It was the dawn of a new era and the end of the dark ages. Britain was, at long last, a properly civilised country where everyone was going to have tons and oodles of rights for everything they could possibly want and anything they could possibly imagine and the whole thing was to be busily administered by an army of publicly-funded lawyers and functionaries. The Human Rights Act was heralded was the modern Social Democrat version of the Magna Carta.

This was the pot of gold at the end of the Entitlements Rainbow; the sweet reward for decades of interminable squawking, marching, banner-waving and shouting the word ‘fascist’.

Courtrooms would now become shopping malls where anyone can just swan in, pick up some rights (in size and colour to suit) and leave with bags full of them, gift-wrapped.

I took a rather different view. My appraisal of the Human Rights Act was that it was a pernicious harbinger of Swiftian stupidities and a cornerstone of a permanent nanny-state. Nothing since has given me the slightest cause to review my initial opinion, indeed, it has only been reinforced. But, interestingly, it appears to be dawning on some of the dewey-eyed believers that this is not the New Jerusalem they were expecting:

I am not the only one who worried that the introduction of the Human Rights Act might backfire on those of us who worry about little things like rape, murder, child abuse and prostitution. Certainly some of the fears many feminists had about fancy lawyers defending all sorts of scum in the name of “rights” proved well founded. HRA cases have included the right of a man accused of rape to hear details of a complainant’s sexual history for the benefit of his defence and – turned down only after serious deliberation – serial killer Dennis Nielsen to be allowed gay pornography in prison, based on the argument that heterosexual serial killers are allowed theirs.

In countries in which real human rights violations blight the lives of millions, there is confusion about why we westerners are using the act to argue, for example, that a man has the right to sunbathe naked in his own garden. Is that really the best we can do?

Cry me a river.

If I had my way, the wretched Human Rights Act would be repealed and every copy in the land would be fed into an industrial shredder.

7 comments to They got what they wished for

  • Guy Herbert

    Note, however, that Bindel’s complaint is that the Human Rights Act creates “rights” she doesn’t approve of or thinks are trivial. My objection to it is quite the reverse: that it creates presumptions that all human life is subject to state regulation unless it can be justified in court as a Human Right, and that your neighbour can dictate your actions if he can persuade a court that it is his Human Right to do so. There is no freedom, only bureaucratic or legalistic coercion.

    The naked sunbather, whose case she thinks is trivial, is a nice clear example. A liberal (in the proper sense) legal order would ask: is he doing any harm? who is harmed enough to have a right to stop him? The young Hegelians of the Human Rights state ask: what right has he to do it?

  • And don’t forget the case of the farmer who got sent to prison because he shot dangerous intruders, who had come to rob him and the police – as usual – wasn’t anywhere to be seen. One of the intruders – a career criminal – even had the gall to sue the farmer for lost earnings; worse he got to do it with public money under the European Human Rights Convention !!

    Ironically, it is also the Yanks who have always derided Britain for not having a human rights act, whenever the death penalty issue comes up.

  • Verity

    “If I had my way, the wretched Human Rights Act would be repealed and every copy in the land would be fed into an industrial shredder.”

    Oh! But then Cherieeeeeeeee would be out of a job! Of course, she could always go into real estate speculation in partnership with an Ozzie wideboy.

    This was always going to be a pork barrel for public sector (read 2nd rate) lawyers. Wasn’t that obvious? Why else would Toneboy have loved it so much? Britain has had laws protecting the rights of the individual longer than anyone else.

  • I remember being at a party on May 1 1997 to ‘celebrate’ the election. Our host, an old-style leftie disappeared at about two minutes past ten to catch the tv headlines, only to return to tell us that the predictions were for a landslide. He was right. He then asked, good-humouredly, if there was anyone present who would be prepared to have voted Tory. I was the only one to do. Asked to explain myself, I proudly gave The Human Rights Act as the one infallible recipe for disaster. This was greeted with bemusement: like saying I wasn’t a Catholic because I rejected hyperdulia, and not because I disapproved of the Pope’s stance on contraception etc. ( yawn ). I was then approached by someone saying, “Ah, let’s go talk to the Fascist”.
    Maybe we won’t be hearing so much of that soon.

  • J.R.T

    Peter Hitchens summed it up best in ‘A Brief History of Crime’ stating: “…the incoporation of the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights into English law have weakened the specifically English tradition of unconditional liberty – everything is legal unless officially banned. They have replaced it with the codified and conditional Continental system, under which all rights are granted by the authorities and everything is illegal unless specificially allowed.”

  • Brock

    Repeal it certainly, but do not burn it. Hold it up and make it a lesson for future generations of “what not to do.” Bad enough modern Britain made this mistake; it would be a shame to have to relearn it every couple generations.

    Sometimes I fear the same thing of America’s Bill of Rights. Most of the Amendmendments are about what the Government may do, and what they are required to do. But several of them (the 1st and 2nd are quite popular) are about a person’s rights.

    Now the 10th Amendment specifically says that “Anything not mentioned here is reserved to the States, or to the People.”, much like the unconditional rights J.R.T. mentioned. However, I think this gets overlooked too often and creates exactly the problem Peter Hichens predicted: We are allowed to do things only when the Right is provided for.

    Or at least, that’s a mindset that is very easy to fall into under the circumstances.

  • Joe

    American law is much more exotic than that. I have no idea what suruj is trying to get across – it’s a little incoherent. In regards to Brock, the Federal Government was very limited in what they could do during the 19th century. “Emperor Franklin” was able to drive the “Interstate Commerce” truck through the limit (google “interstate commerce chicken wheat” for the case). The tax amendment has been another truck for the federalies. Lately, they’ve been using the “war on drugs” (justification for the Waco fiasco) power to get involved. The SCOTUS is finally waking up to the abuses. The recent 9th decisions on homemade machineguns and growing pot at home were designed to see how far SCOTUS will go. We may finally see the feds tossed out of State and People affairs.