Sunday, 21 August 2011

Human Rights We Should Recognise

The recent riots have brought up a lot of commentary about the Human Rights Act, and Call Me Dave’s attack on the Act as contributing to the unrest. All this commentary seems to be from the point of view of the rioters, and the rights given under the act encouraging criminality and violence.

I want to look at the other side, my big gripe with European human-rights legislation. What I object to is not just the rights given that should not be rights, but also the fundamental rights that are not given; these also affected the course of the riots. Of course once the Human Rights Act was made law, it is often assumed that anything not included is not a human right.

The example here is the right to self-defence, including the right to keep and bear arms for this purpose.

For years the right of an Englishman to defend himself, his family and his property have been eroded. The change in this is discussed in an article on Powerline. The claimed reason, that we should rely on the police to protect us, has never been very sound. The police could never claim to be available at every time a man might need to defend himself, so the idea of abdicating this responsibility to the sanctioned authority was always ridiculous. The allegation that police are being told in cases of violent disorder to avoid arresting people and simply try to contain the situation makes it farcical.


Like any well-read lad I enjoyed reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a boy; most people have seen Sherlock Holmes on film and television. Does it not strike people that Watson frequently carried a revolver, as occasionally did Holmes? It was clearly unremarkable to Conan Doyle, and of course it was an assumption at that time that a man might carry a weapon, and defend himself with it. Crime was a lot lower then, around a tenth for more than half the population, for a crime rate of around 1/6 to 1/7 today’s.

In 1964 advice to police was that self defence was not a reason to allow a fire-arms certificate to hold a handgun. Between 1997 and 1998 handguns were banned altogether (high-calibre in 1997, .22 in 1998). Now we are not allowed to carry any weapon at all for self defence. There is no requirement for the police to even suggest that the person was a threat to anyone else. If a person carries a weapon, or anything that can be used as a weapon, without a good excuse he or she can be prosecuted.

Since then there have been increasing cases of police persecuting and prosecuting people who defend themselves. There are cases that should never have come to court, there are cases of arrests that never resulted in charges but still cause distress to people who have already suffered the trauma of attacks on themselves or their homes and businesses.

So where is the human-rights legislation to protect rights of crime victims from the Police, when the criminals receive so much protection?

Of course there are many other rights that are being stripped by the government and the EU, or rights one of us might argue for, but because they are not coded into the European Convention on Human Rights there is almost no chance that they will be recognised as human rights.

Recently there was a television programme about fake Euro notes. It is a strict-liability offense in the Euro-zone to even own fake Euro notes, and also to try to spend them. Yet there are millions of fake notes in circulation. Many people might have them completely innocently. At least one British person, unfamiliar in any case with Euros, tried to spend a single fake note in a large bundle he had directly from a travel agent, yet had he been charged his lawyers had said he was best to plead guilty, as he had no defence. That the Austrian police did not charge him was good sense from them, to his fortune. Not everyone has been so lucky, and a law that relies on luck and the good sense of officers is a poor law.

Where is the protection of our human rights to carry currency without worrying that we might inadvertently commit a serious criminal offence?

What about the one right on which all others, and our freedom and political rights depend, the the protection of our right to free speech? It is protected under article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, with a few exceptions. One of which is protection of morals, another is maintaining the authority of the judiciary. Both of these exceptions are incompatible with what I would see as the human right to free expression.

Of course the UK libel laws are not compatible with natural rights to free speech, nor are the reporting restrictions on family courts, for example. So even our most fundamental right is not protected.

I could go on. Rights to privacy that Americans recognise in the fourth amendment to their constitution, right to free assembly, right to silence under police questioning (broken in the UK; if you disagree with my objection to the current British police caution of rights, I recommend this video "Don't talk to the police", advice from an American lawyer), rights to due process of law and against double jeopardy, rights to speedy trial.

All of these are rights recognised in the constitution of the USA, you will notice; the USA so criticised by sophisticated Europeans as the barbaric outpost of rednecks.

I would argue for other rights: the right to self determination, taken as far as euthanasia, the right to a proportional tax rebate if you choose supply from a third party of services currently offered by government, the right to freedom of choice to the degree that government cannot place extra taxes on products politicians feel we should use less (petrol, home energy and alcohol affect me, but tobacco is unfairly taxed too), and a few more radical libertarian positions. I am even willing to give credence to arguments in favour of right to use certain drugs that are currently illicit, although I am not a libertine and feel that more information is needed to decide on some of those issues.

There is even one right of criminals, to blind justice without considerations of motive (such as “hate crime”) or the victim’s wishes in sentencing. Both of these allow or encourage revenge, not justice.

So, not only does human rights legislation allow rights that are not natural human rights, especially to criminals and those who are not legally resident in this country, but by not mentioning certain rights, or by curtailing them in exceptions, it restricts the rights of the majority. This happens because when the British common law assumption that we have all rights that are not removed whether by historical precedent or by legislation has been supplanted by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Finally I believe that supplanting is unconstitutional. It is entirely at odds with British legal tradition, and if there is any one thing at the heart of the British constitution, tying together the various threads of our written constitution, it is legal tradition.

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