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Coffee House

Clegg paints the world yellow

26 August 2011

9:10 AM

26 August 2011

9:10 AM

Nick Clegg laughed-off the dousing of blue paint he received in Glasgow yesterday, like one of Noel Edmonds’ unwitting victims.
Today, Clegg has turned into the grinning douser: drenching his coalition partners in yellow paint by saying that the European Convention on Human Rights will not be watered down.

Writing in the Guardian, Clegg says that the Conservatives are right to seek operational reform of the
European Court of Human Rights, but the common ground ends there. He says that “the Human Rights Act and the European convention on human rights have been instrumental” in
preventing injustices from council snooping to the misuse of DNA records and that the incorporation of human rights into domestic law was a “hugely positive step”.

[Alt-Text]


Clegg’s emphasis and tone could not be further from that of David Cameron on the same subject at the
weekend
. Clegg adopts Cameron’s phrase “the misrepresentation of rights”, which Cameron defined as rights being used as “cover for rules or excuses that fly
in the face of common sense
”, and refashions it to mean “a culture of legal paranoia” that impedes policing and prevents prosecutions. The implication is that rights
do not need to change, but authority’s relationship with them does. He points to a recent example when the police delivered a KFC meal to a fugitive on roof on human rights grounds.
There is no right to fried chicken,” Clegg says.

Cameron has stressed that rights come with responsibilities. Clegg contests that, saying that a myth has grown “that no rights, not even the most basic, come without responsibilities;
that criminals ought to forfeit their very humanity the moment they step out of line; and that the punishment of lawbreakers ought not to be restrained by due process
.” Clearly, Clegg
believes that certain rights are inherent and that due process should be constrained by them. You could argue that, on the basis of this, Clegg is implicitly opposed to the recent spate of robust
sentences.

The article is a mesh of dividing lines, not only on the interpretation of human rights law but also on the very nature of human rights. For Clegg, the European Convention and the Human Rights
Act are sacrosanct, something of which “we should be proud…and never abandon.” This means that the Liberal Democrats will oppose any attempt made to change the terms of
specific rights (an aim of Theresa May’s), to alter Britain’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights (an
ambition of David Cameron’s), or to leave the convention (a dream of some Tory backbenchers). Clegg welcomes the commission examining
a British bill of rights, if only “to deepen our commitment to the protections of the Human Rights Act, and also to protect other British liberties, such as the right to jury
trial
.” It’s also worth recalling that Clegg worked to ensure the commission was dominated by liberal
human rights lawyers
who share his beliefs.
 
Clegg has played an adept hand to frustrate the Tories so far. Now he has made a statement of intent with a great pail of yellow paint. It remains to be seen how the Conservatives will
respond.

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