I think I must be allergic to elevated levels of hysterical political chatter – lately it’s been making me break out in increasing expressions of my viewpoint. Causing nasty irritation today – the Human Rights Act. Here are nine points essential to the debate.
1. The Human Rights Act is not the same thing as human rights, contrary to the myriad tweets and petitions popping up. Scrapping the former does nothing to the latter.
2. The HRA is not legally binding – it merely provides a shortcut to resolve European Convention on Human Rights-related issues domestically, and rulings under it can be and have been ignored, due to the fundamental way the UK system of government works.
3. The ECHR is legally binding amongst signatories (well, as long as they decide to let it be on the day).
4. A British Bill of Rights does not suggest that the British have different human rights to other people – another straw man floating around social media spheres. If anything, it addresses the problems of having a supranational enumeration of rights which vary in their validity, and which are all meant to be respected by signatories, despite their sometimes rather piecemeal ratification. A signatory to the ECHR by definition insists that the others adhere to the protocols, while in some cases failing to commit itself to do the same.
5. A British Bill of Rights is a bad idea too, though, because codification sets dangerous precedent which suggests that rights are granted by government. The concept of a “supreme law” also provides a cloak of legitimacy for the reality that its supposedly unassailable meaning is actually far from fixed.
6. The necessity of interpretation means that no matter how entrenched a set of rules is in theory, in practice it means they are far from secure, while unwritten convention often holds greater actual power. This is true in the UK to a particularly great extent because of Parliamentary sovereignty, as any Politics A-level student can tell you.
7. One need only look at the archetype of the codification of rights, Amendments I through X of the United States Constitution, to see that even with the best of intentions, enumeration is useless. Despite their existence, the American state is sprawling, invasive, omnipresent, and relatively successful in eroding the sacred liberties listed. And their Bill of Rights even includes a rule intended to deal with the problem of illegitimate creeping increases in power, in the form of the Xth Amendment. The state has expanded its powers relentlessly despite the clear message of that Amendment, through wanton “reinterpretation” of the scope and meaning of the powers originally handed to it.
8. State guarantees of rights, even those constitutional ones with the reputation of being practically carved on stone tablets, are just smoke and mirrors.
9. With all that in mind, doesn’t the HRA look terribly unimportant? Good riddance to an unnecessary piece of state machinery, which is at best impotent to protect your actual rights. It’s just a pity it’s going to be replaced by another one, much the same.