Letters: Tory attack on human rights law

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The Independent Online

The Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor have respectively stated that they wish the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and for the Human Rights Act 1998 to be repealed.

This policy is born out of understandable frustration at the apparent powerlessness of Parliament to govern the nation free of outside interference. However, the attitude of these ministers is also dangerously ignorant. They appear to be unaware of the leading position Britain occupies in human rights law and the respect with which we are regarded by other signatories of the ECHR. They do not seem able to look beyond difficulties posed by the votes-for-prisoners issue and to see the many decisions of the Human Rights Court in this country's favour.

Britain tends to be in the vanguard of human rights law, addressing issues before other countries have seen fit to. Our expertise in this branch of law is such that our lawyers are frequently asked to advise and represent other countries in cases coming before the court. Giving up this position of leadership and respect for a temporary appeal to the unthinking electorate is unworthy of this nation's great traditions of respect for the rights of the individual.

British lawyers helped to draft the Convention in 1950, and we should be proud to uphold the imperative standards of fair treatment that we have sought to give to the wider world.

Jeremy Goldsmith

Newark upon Trent, Nottinghamshire

Robert Walter MP talks absolute tosh when he says that if Britain leaves the European Court of Human Rights, our 60-year history of sharing the concept of freedom would be lost (letter, 5 March). British freedoms were not established from abstraction and noted down by political philosophers. The Common Law, the accumulation of 1,000 years of experience, and consisting of the rulings and precedents of the courts, established the freedoms that we all enjoy today. The backbone of a stable and successful rule of law is the established judiciary, not statutory legislation.

It would be better for authoritarian regimes first to sort out their judicial systems by importing the Common Law and establishing judicial independence in order to enforce individual freedom rather than declaring through arbitrary legislation that their countries have "human rights". Conservative politicians such as Mr Walter should know far better.

James Paton

Billericay, Essex

All too often, when things go wrong at home, ministers lash out at "Europe" or "Brussels". But now the Conservatives have decided that "human rights" is another foreign idea they can have no truck with.

Can they please make it clear to their members and voters – who often display appalling ignorance on this point – that the European Convention on Human Rights grew out of the Council of Europe and entered into force in 1953, and has absolutely nothing to do with the EEC, which was not established until 1957 (and only later developed into the EU).

It would be good to get this clear once and for all, well in advance of any referendum on EU membership. One often gets the impression that anti-Europeans find it convenient to conflate the two.

Dave Skinner

Tervuren, Belgium

Swiss voters curb the fat cats of business

How strange that there has been so little comment in the British media on Swiss voters' decision in last weekend's referendum to curb executive pay and cap bonuses. The europhobe commentators and politicians are forever telling us that Switzerland is the free-market paradigm, an Alpine antidote to the nasty EU (whose proposals are far milder). They also point to the Swiss system of direct democracy as opposed to what they see as an EU lack of it.

So surely they should be campaigning for Mr Cameron to do the right thing and let the British people have their referendum on executive pay, bonuses, golden parachutes and the like, which Swiss voters have decided are inimical to the workings of a fair democracy.

Rod Chapman

Sarlat, France

Whether or not to teach ethics in MBAs is a cornerstone issue in the corporate world. The spate of corporate crises seen in the last few years demonstrates that shareholders need to care about more than just strategy, marketing and finance.

In our research, which looked at more than a quarter of a million employees around the world, we found that companies with solid ethical practices provide average shareholder returns of 7.9 per cent compared to 2.1 per cent for those without. Before we even get into whether business leaders should feel compelled to "do the right thing" it's clear that the idea that misconduct breeds profit is dead.

Not teaching future leaders of business how to control corporate misconduct is dangerous and short-sighted.

Maarten Westermann

Senior Director, CEB

London, WC1

Codes of sexual good manners

When will we really have equal respect between men and women, gay men and lesbians? (Terence Blacker: "Groping for a new sexual etiquette", 5 March).

Many years ago I was enjoying a meal in a Dorset pub. I was the only woman in the group. One of the men was a National Trust warden for a stretch of the Dorset coast, and he told us that a popular beach had been "taken over" by the local homosexual community. In a horrified voice he said that many perfectly decent men visiting the beach were now receiving unwelcome approaches from other men!

I burst out laughing. My companions thought I must have gone mad. When I could speak I explained how glad I was to hear that at least some men were finding out the hard way just how unpleasant such approaches are, particularly from men who think they have some kind of right to act in this way.

Lesley Docksey

Buckland Newton, Dorset

As a feminist who is sometimes guilty of the male stereotyping so indignantly rejected by Messrs Thomas and Lanham (letters, 28 February, 1 March), I offer a sincere apology.

I can only say that it is all too easy to rage at men in general for the daily deluge of misogyny from rape, domestic violence (including murder), paedophilia, "honour" killings, sexual enslavement, sharia punishments, forced marriages and genital mutilation through to harassment and marginalisation at work and second-class status in all religions and most countries.

That said, "man" does not equal "monster", but neither does "feminist" equal "man-hater". I am a very happily married woman, like many other feminists, and have certainly not "utterly forgotten" the goodness and kindness of so many men all over the world.

Julie Harrison


Greg Purnell writes an apologia for Cardinal O'Brien's sexual activities (letter, 5 March). I would imagine that few people care a jot about what the Cardinal got up to, provided it was legal, but what annoys people is the hypocrisy of the man, as stated in your editorial. None of us is perfect but when a person holds himself up as a moral guardian and role model, condemning those who do what he now admits he has done, then the stench is overpowering.

Patrick Cleary

Honiton, Devon

School governors make a difference

I am a governor for two London schools and have sat ex officio on several governing bodies when I was a headteacher.

I recognise the problem for governors who want to make a difference for children but who are confronted with meetings that are jargon-heavy or else apparently trivial: the "what have they got in their lunchbox" syndrome.

And yet, governors can be more effective than Lisa Jardine (28 February) suggests. In fact, what she describes as "the best governors can do" – to hold the school properly to account – is the crucial role. Carried out well, it promotes honesty and clarity without which no education can be good.

In my experience, the best schools welcome challenges from governors and try to provide accessible information to encourage them.

Jean Gallafent

London NW1

Food or weapons

You are right to challenge the wisdom of David Cameron's suggestion that some of the overseas aid budget could be used for military operations (leading article, 22 February). Unicef reckons that undernutrition contributes to the deaths of 2.6 million children under five each year; meanwhile, the human race annually spends around a trillion pounds on arms. The world is over-armed and underfed, and correcting that should be the chief priority of every responsible politician on earth.

Dr Nick Megoran

Lecturer in Political Geography, Newcastle University

Slim Belgians

My wife and I have just returned from a weekend break in Brussels, a city known for its chips, chocolate, beer and waffles. We also experienced incredibly large helpings in restaurants. Yet we never saw one – no, not one – obese person. Could it be that the Belgians have a different genetic make-up? I don't think so. Whatever they do or don't do, maybe we can get some clues to solving the national disaster that is upon us.

Stephen Markeson


A striver

Given the Government's recent concerns about people from Romania and Bulgaria coming to the UK, I want to point out that a Bulgarian friend of mine came to live here several years ago. She is highly educated and works very hard at her well-paid job and at bringing up a family. I doubt she feels very welcome here at the moment. Is this really what we want?

Bob Morgan

Thatcham, West Berkshire


Why must profiles and interviews of actors and actresses be introduced with superlatives: Olivia Colman, we learnt on 2 March, is not merely a fine comedy actress; she is the "queen" of Comedy; Nicole Kidman is "Hollywood's most intriguing female star". Please, cut back on the hype; the actors' agents may not like it, but they will get over it.

John Dakin

Toddington, Bedfordshire

Chuck them out

Jim Hutchinson (letter, 27 February) rightly suggests that ostracism is a bad way to sack politicians. The good old tradition of defenestration is far more effective.

Bob Heys

Ripponden, West Yorkshire