So it’s goodbye to human rights as we know them. Now that David Cameron has an overall majority, he can go ahead with his pledge to scrap the loathed Human Rights Act. He might even, if reports are correct, rush through a Bill to get rid of it during his first 100 days.
The Tories will protest that they’re not opposed to human rights as such, invoking Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. Tellingly, though, the strategy paper published last year by the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, is full of caveats. Headed “Human Rights in Context” – don’t you just hate those universal rights that apply to everybody? – it declares the party’s intention to “put Britain first”.
The contradiction is obvious: if the UK is committed to universal human rights, they have to apply, for instance, when British troops are serving abroad. No army has completely managed to avoid soldiers behaving badly, and people who claim to have been tortured or beaten currently have the right to bring cases in the British courts. They won’t under the Tory proposals, which include a commitment to limit the reach of human rights cases to the UK, “so that British Armed Forces overseas are not subject to persistent human rights claims”.
As well as foreigners, some classes of people living in the UK will no longer be able to use human rights legislation in a frankly annoying way. Prisoners, for instance – who cares about them? If they wanted to have children, they should have thought about it before getting banged up, instead of going to Strasbourg (not an English city, obviously) to demand the right to artificially inseminate their partners. As for prisoners wanting to vote – don’t get me started.
As far as the Conservatives are concerned, human rights are all right in their place, but they certainly don’t want to be told what to do by foreign judges. Rulings by the European Court of Human Rights will become “advisory”, and the use of human rights law will be limited to the “most serious cases”. Those involve the criminal law, the liberty of an individual or the right to property, while “trivial” cases will be struck out.
These are rights born out of slogans such as “an Englishman’s home is his castle”. They are limited in application, reflecting a libertarian philosophy which favours the powerful over the vulnerable. It will be music to the ears of the Daily Mail, which has run endless headlines along the lines of “I want to scrap the Human Rights Act but Clegg won’t let me, says the PM”.
No more whining about that. From Cameron’s point of view, an assault on “human rights” is an ideal way of signalling a break with five years of coalition. Think how it will be received at the Mail , which boasted that it had been named most influential newspaper of the election.