Tuesday, January 14, 2014

ECHR head says Britain leaving would be a disaster

Judge Dean Spielmann, the head of the European Court of Human Rights (which is not part of the European Union) has suggested that Britain leaving the Council of Europe or resiling from the European Convention on Human Rights would be a disaster,

"For everyone who is dedicated to the effective protection of human rights, not only in Europe but also in the rest of the world because we have a unique system of protecting human rights."

In an interview for the BBC's HARDtalk programme, Judge Spielmann said: "It is of course a problem if a country with a long-standing tradition of protecting human rights - and I would like also to pay tribute to the work which is done by the UK in the rest of the world promoting human rights - that this country would not comply with the rule of law."

Actually, I don't think it would be a very good thing either but let's be clear here, what did Britain join the ECHR to do?

It was to stop serious wrongs being committed. When we signed up to the idea of human rights it was supposed to be to stop serious injustice, e.g. aims such as

* To make sure people could not be arbitrarily deprived of their liberties or property without being proven guilty of an offence during a fair trial

* To make sure that people had equal access to justice regardless of their race, sex, religion or creed

* To protect the right to free speech within the law.

And what is the issue which is currently driving a wedge between British politicians and the court? Giving convicted prisoners the right to vote.

I totally accept that prisoners awaiting trial who have not yet been convicted should indeed have the right to vote, and that this would be a human rights issue - except that Britain does allow prisoners on remand to vote.

I would add that if another sovereign country wants to give those who have been convicted and are serving prison terms the right to vote, I do not have a problem with that. It's their decision. But the decision should belong to Britain, to MPs and ultimately to voters, whether we do that here and not to any supranational court.

But I happen to agree with the majority of MPs that if someone has been proven beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law to have committed an offence sufficiently serious for that court to take away his or her liberty, there is absolutely no reason why one of the liberties taken away as part of that punishment should not be the liberty to take part in elections for the during of his or her prison term.

It's not an arbitrary policy if it only applies to people who have been convicted of a serious offence after a fair trial.

And it is utterly ludicrous to compare this policy with the sort of human rights violation which we signed the ECHR to try to stop.

It is perfectly possible for someone who is seriously committed to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, to also believe that it is fair for those convicted of breaking the law and sentenced to a prison term to lose their vote as part of their punishment during their sentence.

If Judge Speilman thinks it would be a disaster if Britain left the EHCR there is an easy solution in his and his colleagues' own hands - concentrate your efforts on areas of genuine injustice. And stop misusing the powers of the European Court of Human rights to force policies on issues where intelligent people of goodwill can disagree, onto countries which have elected representatives who take a different view on those issues.

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