Is Human Rights legislation more trouble than it’s worth?
With the European economy resembling a slow train crash, and the Leveson enquiry resembling the red carpet at Oscars night more and more each day, it’s sometimes difficult to keep focus on some issues which really do matter. In last Wednesday’s Telegraph, former Conservative Leader Michael Howard argued that Britain’s own laws and views were being undermined by what he suggested was a slavish adherence to Strasbourg’s rulings. I think we only need to look as far as the illegal Bolivian immigrant who avoided deportation because of a cat to understand where Lord Howard is coming from.
The argument is that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), (the right to a ‘private and family life’) is widely open abuse and enables individuals to flout the system. According to the Daily Mail (please take this number with a pinch of salt; I did), this particular clause has allowed at least 102 individuals, living illegally in the United Kingdom to be able to stick two fingers up at our deportation processes. According to a Home Office official, some criminals father “a network of children” so that they can avoid being forcibly removed from this country after serving time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Some would argue that it is Brussels that now decides who can enter the Britain, others would argue that it is the Judges who are to blame; that they weigh up one human right over another. I’ve heard many angry voices in my local arguing something to the tune of “What about my human right not to have my tax going to keep paying for all these illegal immigrants who can’t keep it in their trousers??”. Not exactly an elegant way of putting it but I’m sure there are many around the country who agree with the sentiment.
Such an obvious loophole begs some serious questions; and many politicians including Theresa May have called for the scrapping of Human Rights legislation altogether. One may even argue, do we need the Human Right Act at all? Some may argue that it is actually doing more damage to the concept of human rights than it does to safeguard them. By giving Judges and Law Lords a free hand to apply Article 8 what the Telegraph termed “babyfathers’ it brings the whole nature of the legislation and the highly noble reasons behind it into disrepute. The Telegraph detailed the case of a Jamaican drug smuggler who fathered many children in quick succession who had previously used his status as the spouse of a British citizen to avoid deportation. Not only did the Judge overseeing his appeal (using Article 8) freely admit that the evidence he provided of his ‘family life’ was patchy at best, and what evidence there was, hardly portrayed him as the ideal family man! Judge Jonathan Perkins claimed that “The public interest in preserving the relationship between a father and his children is strong…His removal would be a disproportionate interference with the rights of his daughter” an idea that assumes that his children want him to stay in the UK as much as he does. Not something which is reflected by the mother of one of his children when she described her feelings about the ruling of the court, “I was very upset to hear he’s been allowed to stay here…They should have sent him home. That was what I was wishing for, but my wish did not come true.”
To play Devil’s advocate for just a moment; when we speak about criminals, and particularly those whose crimes have been particularly horrendous, could there be any circumstances where these individuals by the very nature of their crime suspend their eligibility to be protected by such laws. I will give you a ‘for instance’; what about the case of William Danga, a man who raped and abused two young girls whilst in the process of fighting a deportation order using the “right to a family life” angle. He had served ten years in prison for rape, and on his release attacked his first victim again before subjecting a seven year old girl to similar abuse. Does a man as depraved as this deserved to be treated with the same consideration as someone like Brenda Namigadde; the Ugandan lesbian whose deportation was stopped at the 11th hour, a deportation which at a time that new anti-homosexuality laws were being proposed would potentially put her life at risk? By impinging so horrifically on the human rights of others, has Mr Danga not forfeited some of his own? I don’t mean that we should return to biblical ways of dealing with people, an eye for an eye and all that but people want to see that justice is done. For a man to be released back into society and to be put in a position where he can destroy innocent lives after already costing the taxpayer many hundreds of thousands in courts, police and upkeep for ten years, for many people it makes a mockery of the whole system. When these same people hear that it was legislation made outside of this country which enabled men like William Danga to stay in Britain, that is the time they decide to vote UKIP, or even worse BNP.
I’m not suggesting that we completely do away with Human Rights legislation, but there needs to be a concerted effort to review it and to eradicate the loopholes which could potentially discredit it. Britain, as Chair of the Council of Europe, is in a strong position to push for this. Lord Howard suggests that Britain is in an ideal position to drive through reforms in the form ‘democratic overrides’, this would be a clause or other amendment which would empower “the ministers on the Council of Europe to determine that a judgment should not be enforced if it goes against a clear and recent expression of opinion by a national parliament”. Clearly something has to be done about the abuse of Article 8, and so I hope as I’m sure many others will to see if Britain really has any muscle left as is able to get these changes through.