Skip to Content

Blogs Coffee House

Chris Grayling is an advertisement for a Labour government

3 October 2014

1:39 PM

3 October 2014

1:39 PM

Thank heavens for Ed Miliband, eh? The leader of the opposition remains the single most compelling reason to hope the Conservatives remain in power next May.

A shame, then, that cabinet ministers appear determined to promote the idea that a Labour victory would be garlanded with at least some silver promise. Chiefly, Chris Grayling would no longer serve as Justice Secretary. This is a non-trivial consideration that’s worth pondering before anyone casts their ballot next May.

There is some dispute over whether the Conservative’s plans to rewrite Britain’s human rights legislation can really deliver all they promise; some disagreement, therefore, over whether they’re as dangerous as they initially appear. Is a half-baked nonsense worse than a fully-baked monstrosity?

I is no lawyer but there is, nonetheless, a simple test by which we may measure the importance and usefulness of Grayling’s plan to decouple England from the European Court of Human Rights and, perhaps, in time, from the European Convention on Human Rights too. That test is whether his proposals expand or limit the application of human rights in England.

I think we know the answer to that question.

Grayling, helpfully, makes his position clear: the Human Rights Act has ‘supported the rights of the few over the rights of the many’. In typical fashion, this brutish Justice Secretary sees this as a problem, not a virtue. In other words, he fails to understand that shielding citizens from the predations of an over-mighty state is the point of these protections, not a demonstration of their inadequacy or failure. That they frequently inconvenience governments is all to the good. That’s what they are for.

The Conservative proposals plan to Limit the use of Human Rights laws to the most serious cases. They will no longer apply in trivial cases.’ But how is the divide between ‘serious’ and ‘trivial’ cases to be determined? For that matter, you could think that a move to limit the application of human rights concerns could render a previously-trivial, even frivolous, case suddenly serious. 

Was the Twitter Joke Trial trivial or not? On one level, yes, on another certainly not. The rights to free expression are easily limited and the courts exist, at least in part, to secure and protect those rights.

Moreover, the part-time application of human rights seems quite deliberately intended to allow the state to act as it pleases, not as the law dictates it must. How else to interpret the Tory suggestion that ‘People who do not fulfil their responsibilities in society should not be able to claim so-called ‘qualified rights’ in their defence.’

Why not? The point of universal, inalienable, rights is that they are, well, universal and inalienable. A person does not forfeit those rights simply because the state deems said person ‘irresponsible’ or in some other loosely and capriciously defined sense unworthy of the full protection of the law. We disapprove of you is no basis for good law. Or civilised society. Grayling claims there must be no ‘legal blank cheque to take human rights into areas where they have never applied’, but why shouldn’t there be? 

It cannot be stressed too often that the Human Rights Act places valuable limits on the ability of the state to persecute or otherwise coerce its citizens. So, more broadly, does the European Court and the Convention. Doubtless this inconveniences the state but, again, that’s a feature not a bug.

All the talk of parliamentary sovereignty is, in the end, a smokescreen laid to disguise the fact that the Conservatives really do think human rights legislation is a kind of folly that must be replaced by the robust implementation of robust common sense. In other words, the liberties and relief you currently enjoy should be limited because, well, because that’s just common sense innit? England will be a little less free if these proposals are ever actually limited. That’s the whole point of them and if it weren’t there’d be no point to them at all.

No liberal of any variety can support Grayling’s proposals and this oafish Justice Secretary is a walking, talking, advertisement for a Labour government.


Show comments