Huhne clashes with Tories on ‘rights’


9:04 am - March 3rd 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


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This extract from Chris Huhne’s speech at the CoML was excellent:

It is also essential in my view that we don’t abolish the Human Rights Act. Both Labour and Conservative politicians are now talking about how we need a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities and the Conservatives actually said they want to repeal the Human Rights Act.

Now we must remember why the Human Rights Act is so important as opposed to British rights. Because Eleanor Roosevelt was not foolish when she championed human rights in the 1948 universal declaration and the British lawyers involved in the drafting of the process were making a fundamental point. Any society at some point in the future can decide who its citizens are and who they are not. That is what happened in Nazi Germany – they defined the Jews as non-citizens outside the pale, no longer at the serving of human rights no longer deserving of German citizens rights. If we define [rights] as British that is the risk that we run again and we must not allow that to happen.

And let me make one final point, which is that if we want to achieve that consensus that I very much want to see, we have certainly to build a popular campaign that is absolutely crucial, but the end of that popular campaign to my mind should be an entrenchment of our civil liberties in a way that cannot be challenged in the way that it has been challenged in the last ten years in particular. I am thinking here of a written constitution. … That is the sort of entrenchment of civil liberties which we’ll never have in this country unless we too have a written constitution to guarantee that judges can oversee laws and can make sure that they do not contravene fundamental civil liberties.

Completely agree with all of that. [Update: text has been cleaned up]

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Conservative Party ,Labour party ,Libdems ,Realpolitik ,Westminster

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Reader comments


“Because Eleanor Roosevelt was into foolish when she challenged human rights in the 1948 universal declaration and the British lawyers involved in the drafting of threat process were making a fundamental point.”

???

It would be nice if he practised what he preached. His opposition to Geert Wilders entering the UK has removed any respect that I had for Huhne’s approach to civil liberties. He, like so many other politicians, talks a good game about civil liberties but when something serious is at stake he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty.

Mark, it’s an uncorrected transcript.

Sunny Hundal at his blandly infuriating worst and that’s saying something

The reason this country never had the identity card system is that it used to have robust border controls .The removal of them with mass immigration has made internal surveillance unavoidable . In addition the human rights act was imposed from, abroad without any mandate .It is an internationalist anti national assault which is almost universally loathed and has unintended criminal charter consequences that never end. Judges who now outrank Parliament come down in favour of the rights of terror suspects, illegal immigrants and common criminals against the rights of indigenous, law-abiding people. It has dismantled Common Law which safeguarded this country from despotism for centuries a country that did not need to be taught by Germans about freedom , nor indeed by recent immigrants from countries far less well favored in this respect This weakening of Parliament by law , devolution and the EU is turning us into slaves
Its about time the word liar was used of those from the left who are putting on a cheap suit of “Liberty” .They do not defend men accused of rape from being guilty unitl proven innocent , they do not defend Common-law Parliament or democracy , they do not defend your right to your own money or to make innumerable decisions about your own life. They do not defend smoking , drinking ( the new smoking as we predicted).About the only Liberty that I ever seen defended is to receive state vouchers others are free to donate. They positively hate the country which has been the very cradle of Liberty.
Chris Huhne is a socialist and he showed his true colours over Geert Wilders and Lisbon , an arrogant authoritarian eltist pig .I find it especially irksome when the Liberty is misused by those whose true agenda is to dismantle the country and impose internationalism despite the clear evidence that it is not wanted .How is that next Irish referendum coming along them ? You may have to wait a while before a moment when they will “get it right”.

ukliberty – Yes, obviously. What does it mean? Sunny must know, because he completely agrees with it, but I’m stumped.

“the sort of entrenchment of civil liberties which we’ll never have in this country unless we too have a written constitution to guarantee that judges can oversee laws and can make sure that they do not contravene fundamental civil liberties.”

Overseeing here meaning striking down and rejecting laws made by democratically elected representatives.

People may not like the current government’s policies affecting civil liberties, but at least they can argue, pressurise MPs and the government, vote out Labour and perhaps gets those laws changed. But if you make a written constitution sovereign over Parliament, you end up with an outdated supreme law that no one can change and that actually gets in the way of radical change, like, say, gun control in America.

One liberal might be in favour of, say, unrestricted extreme porn, or even child porn, but another might think it harms freedom, ultimately, and should be controlled. Better for the arguments to be contested and decisions made on the merits, and perhaps changed over time according to changing social views by elected politicians, than either to decide the question in advance and for ever now, or else to put any future decision in the hands of judges. That’s the kind of thing you risk with a written constitution.

Carl – you are right but in practice, the judges simply adapt their preferences and interpretations in line with public values as well, making them just another check on new laws rather than a final arbiter. The problem with that situation is that as their decisions gain a higher profile, their appointments become much more politically interesting until finally they end up like politicians themselves (but with no term limits).

A constitution might be useful, it might not. The HRA is certainly better than nothing but has its flaws too. I think a document that makes it perfectly legitimate for the state to detain homeless people, and yet can be used by prisoners to demand methadone, is hardly producing consistent rights claims. While prisoners have rights, we should be most concerned with rights that can stop innocent people from becoming prisoners!

Carl

You are entirely wrong.

It is the lack of a written constitution and a bill of rights protecting the rights of the individual citizen that has permitted the current government to enact the legislation to create such an authoritarian society.

Sorry Mark. I couldn’t figure it out either.

Newmania, why copy and paste your second and third sentences from Melanie Phillips’ appallingly ill-informed rubbish?

The Human Rights Act was not imposed from abroad, it is a an Act drafted and voted upon by Parliament.

Judges do not outrank Parliament – Parliament ultimately retains its sovereignty. They do not “favour the rights of terror suspects, illegal immigrants and common criminals against the rights of indigenous, law-abiding people”. If they did, we wouldn’t have control orders, to name but one aspect of illiberal legislation.

You make a couple of good points about individual freedom being imposed upon by ‘the left’. But they are overshadowed by your ignorant nonsense.

I agree with Carl & Nick on a written constitution – terrible idea. But the general point Huhne makes about the problems of having a rights-based approach but then defining narrowly who has those rights is a very good one. Bickerstaffe Record had a very good post on a similar theme a couple of days ago.

Newmania – this country never used to have robust border controls. In the 19th century there were none whatsoever. They were first brought in to discriminate against Jews and they have been fortified in the last decade to the extent that the only group it’s really accurate to use the term “police state” for is migrants.

Did the methadone claim succeed, Nick? No matter what laws you have, people can always make bonkers claims – they make bonkers unfair dismissal claims every day, for example, but they’re not often reported partly because they’re not as newsworthy as anything about human rights. You can’t judge human rights legislation on the claims people make under it, only on the claims that succeed.

Funny, Pagar, I agree entirely with your second sentence (well, except that I think it’s well OTT to say this is an authoritarian society). I can’t really agree with your first, for obvious reasons.

Mark – Perhaps it should read somthing like:
“Because Eleanor Roosevelt wasn’t foolish when she championed human rights in the 1948 universal declaration, and the British lawyers involved in the drafting of that process were making a fundamental point. Any society at some point in the future can decide who its citizens are, and who they are not.”

Newmania – this country never used to have robust border controls. In the 19th century there were none whatsoever.
At that time we were able to rely on something called the Sea you idiot and defending that blue wavey thing used to be something of a concern. Controls have not been fortified in the last decade , it is common knowledge that the border is out of control and immigration has quintupled in that period. This why the Labour Party copied to Conservative idea of designated border force but copied it badly . That is why Councils complain that official figures seem to bear no relation to the number if people wanting services and we have failed to move 2 million of the sick note with the result we are lumbered with them now and cannot afford it Get back into the real world for god`s sake .
UK Liberty what the matter with Melanie Phillips then , she writes for a popular Newspaper and not one which has to soak the tax payer to keep going at all like the Guardian . While she addresses a considerable constituency pf opinion Polly Toynbee the loon whacko of this Parish who want out tax at Swedish 70% levels speaks for noone . Guess which one was editor in charge of social affairs for seven years on the 90s Go on guess !
We ratified the human rights act in this country (in 2000 ?) so it was available in our courts and not he embarrassing truth of Strasbourg . This was the end product of a long EU plot carried out by those who dream of a united states of Europe to set against the US. It goes back to the convention on Human rights . The implications of this were of course withheld from the British who had no idea that decades of un debated un-scrutinised and very much unpublicised imposition on this and future Parliaments had smuggled in. It betrays the trust between Parliament and people and should have been the subject of a referendum which would have been lots by a long long way.

My ignorance! Ha I KNOW EVERYTHING …so how is that Irish referendum coming on then ?

I’d also like to see a British constitution.

But the American constitution was reached after a bloody war of independence. It was forged in the fires of suffering and struggle. It was drafted by the lionised fathers of a nascent republic. It is protected by its own pillar of government – The Supreme Court of the United States.

Yes the U.S. constitution has been amended at times, but recent history tells us that a British constitution would be treated by our self-important political classes as a nebulous hindrance that can be ignored, or worse, reshaped for every new “political reality” that will be constructed to terrify us into obedience.

We don’t need a document. We need a new way of running this country. For once, let’s be as radical as our forefathers and shake this shit up.

While I’m loath to respond to Newmania’s demented trollery, I’m going to have to point out that the Irish are favouring the treaty 63/37.

UK Liberty what the matter with Melanie Phillips then ,

She’s ignorant or dishonest (or both), gets paid for propagating her nonsense, and people lap it up. It’s equivalent to creationism in the sense of “it’s not even wrong” and people believe it and insist others should believe it too.

she writes for a popular Newspaper

argumentum ad numerum or, … millions of flies can’t be wrong.

and not one which has to soak the tax payer to keep going at all like the Guardian

I have no love for the Guardian or Polly Toynbee, who seems equally deluded.

We did not ‘ratify’ the Human Rights Act in this country. It was drafted and voted on by Parliament in 1998.

The European Convention on Human Rights was drafted – and we helped with this – signed and ratified in the aftermath of the Second World War. Have a think about the timing here – why the drafters thought it necessary or desirable.

“Did the methadone claim succeed, Nick?”

It did but because the government backed down, not because it was tested in court. The fact that they did back down indicates that they thought there was a good chance that the prisoner’s claim for methadone would succeed in court.

People may not like the current government’s policies affecting civil liberties, but at least they can argue, pressurise MPs and the government, vote out Labour and perhaps gets those laws changed. But if you make a written constitution sovereign over Parliament, you end up with an outdated supreme law that no one can change and that actually gets in the way of radical change, like, say, gun control in America.

There are potential problems either way. If we just leave it to the democratic process there is the danger of the tyranny of the majority over the minority. Because of that, and because I think there are certain principles which should be non-negotiable in any civilised society I do think that the powers of elected governments should be limited and governed by a constitution. However, I don’t think such a constitution should be set in stone – it may need to evolve as our society evolves and it surely can’t be right for us to bind future generations to a constitution which they have no power to change.

I don’t know the details of the case but I’m not sure that prisoners being given methadone is obviously wrong.

Would anyone object to replacing the wording of the HRA with the wording of the American Bill of Rights (ok, minus the right to bear arms if you want) and if so, why?

I’ve amended the text what I think he said at the time…

His opposition to Geert Wilders entering the UK has removed any respect that I had for Huhne’s approach to civil liberties.

Oh give me a break. I don’t see you people making a big fuss the week after when those homophobes were barred from coming into the UK. Did you say anything when Louis Farrakhan was barred eh LFaT? You’re as hypocritical as the people you criticise.

We did not ‘ratify’ the Human Rights Act in this country. It was drafted and voted on by Parliament in 1998.
The European Convention on Human Rights was drafted – and we helped with this – signed and ratified in the aftermath of the Second World War. Have a think about the timing here – why the drafters thought it necessary or desirable.

The human rights act ( which came into force in 2000 ) in this country just says that you can enforce the human rights act here without recourse to Strasbourg it says “Yes to all that” . Alright its not ratified , its justicible in the UK and by that means imposed endless EU law on us ( I refer to the wider EU movement ) avoiding any progress that might be seen by the British people who were in no need of laws imposed by European elites to stop them slaughtering minorities and attacking their neighbours . You do not need to remind me of the part played by our elite in betraying the country but the motives of those meeting after the war like Churchill are not to be confused with the motives of those who sought money and power in the 1970s above all Heath. It is against the entire spirit of democracy and the communitarian sprit of the British legal system which does not recognise “rights “ attaching to humans but assumes ‘subjects of her majesty’ an imagined community have any right which is not prescribed by law. Can you imagine Churchill approving of a subordination of Parliament it was just to save this he took us to war , we could have done deal with Hitler to keep the form of sovereignty whist actually subordinate to the European Empire of Hitler . he would never have sold the country out .Chris Huhne by contrast wants a constitution to hand further powers to lawyers and the over-mighty constituency of elitist of which is a typically revolting example .
The state and the lawyers , the Pharoah and the Priests .You whine about the church and its trifling powers but you are looking in the wrong direction for the new Priestly cast . It’s the lawyers and they use of the tricks magic secret languages to keep us paying and in line the way they always did .

But Andrew, that’s the whole trouble with sovereign constitutions: you are by definition binding future generations. Yes, I know even a written constitution can be changed, but the more amendable you make it, the less point there is in having it. I prefer Parliamentary sovereignty, myself.

That’s why I’d object to the US Bill of Rights, Richard. My objection isn’t to the content, but to the supremacy and entrenchment of the Bill of Rights. I’m glad Parliament can make laws abridging free speech, for instance, even though I opposed the Religious Hatred Bill. I think political issues should be decided on the merits, and that options should not be blocked out in advance by legal restrictions. We cannot know now what kinds of hate speech or other abuses of free speech might arise in the future (we’re visited by friendly furry sentient aliens who unfortunately feel pain if you say certain words near them, simply because of the sound?), or that anyone would regard restricting that speech as illiberal.

Oh give me a break. I don’t see you people making a big fuss the week after when those homophobes were barred from coming into the UK. Did you say anything when Louis Farrakhan was barred eh LFaT? You’re as hypocritical as the people you criticise.

I think this is what is called Whataboutery

25. Green Socialist

Criminal Justice act 1994 ’nuff said!

Huhne was right on the boufant fascist Wilders

#23: really well put.

Sunny 21: Actually I do remember both the cases you mention being banned, but the situations are obviously different.

Phelps goes around celebrating the murder of homosexuals, Wilders criticises a religious text. Phelps came to this country with the explicit desire to cause trouble, Wilders was invited by a politician. Louis Farrakhan has been caught inciting racial hatred – which should be against the law. Wilders could only be accused of religious hatred, which is now illegal thanks to Labour’s attack on civil liberties but certainly should not illegal.

Nice try, though.

My objection isn’t to the content, but to the supremacy and entrenchment of the Bill of Rights. I’m glad Parliament can make laws abridging free speech

Oh for God’s sake Carl. The phrase “abridged free speech” is tautologous. You either have free speech or you don’t.

The content of a Bill of Rights should be based on fundamental principles of human dignity, freedom etc. It would seem from what you say that you don’t want a written constitution because you don’t believe in these principles.

Fair enough, but are you on the right blog?

Huhne is quite right about the dangers of ‘lots of rights, but only for citizens’. It’s that that leads to nonsense like the way the US can bomb a village where someone is rumoured to be, but can’ t capture that same person alive.

Where he is wrong is in confusing the ECHR, as incorporated into UK law, and the UN declaration of universal rights. One is a simple statement that any individual can read, come to the conclusion ‘this political system is not succeeding in following this’, and decide to do something about it.

The other is an authoritarian’s charter where unelected judges and lawyers get to decide which rules they would like everyone to follow. This is presumably based on a historical misreading of Hitler’s rise to power, popular amongst 1950s Tory historians like Churchill. This is that ‘the masses’ wanted Hitler, and the conservative elite held out against the masses demands as long as they could, but the constitution ultimately didn’t provide them enough power to stop him.

This is of course, historical nonsense, completely discredited by later scholarship. Hitler came to power through, not despite, the respectable generals, burghers, businessmen and lawyers.

Any kind of model of rights based on that misreading of history is worthless at best, perhaps even dangerous in itself.

Wilders was barred on rather spurious grounds. It is a pity Huhne and Howarth (and indeed many other people) seem to think this was acceptable because they dislike him, regardless of whether this was lawful. But while that does not render useless all their other comments on liberty, it does make me question how far they are willing to go.

Newmania, I’m finding it difficult to parse your contributions. You also continue to conflate the Human Rights Act with the Convention.

I ask again, what rights do you wish we didn’t have? The right to a fair trial? The right to challenge the lawfulness of one’s detention? Our Parliament, which you and Phillips seem to have unwavering faith in, voted to restrict those rights. It is the Convention and the European Court of Human Rights that has helped mitigate such restrictions. Let’s recognise the good it can do.

Yours and Phillips’ complaints seem to stem from the fact that the Convention prohibits us from deporting people suspected of terrorism to countries where they face a real risk of torture (oh, and that it has ‘Europe’ in its title). I’d rather my country did not deport people to countries where they face torture. Shame on you both for your tacit support of torture.

The problem in this country is not in itself the Convention, or ‘Europe’, or the lack of a constitution, it’s the willingness of Parliamentarians to pass bad law. If Parliamentarians are going to continue to do that, I’d quite like something in place that can stop them.

Hey, Pagar, let’s not bring God into it. That’ll just wind us both up even more, and I’m for constructive debate.

Richard referred to the US Constitution. In responding, I used the language of “abridging” free speech, which I’ve taken from the text of the first amendment:
http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.billofrights.html#amendmenti

If you don’t like the language constitutional drafters use, well, there’s another reason for not having a written constitution.

You’ve got me quite wrong, and you’re being utterly unfair, if you’re suggesting I don’t believe in fundamental principles like dignity and freedom. Where on earth do you get that from? I see nothing in my posts that remotely suggests it. Do you really think opposing a written constitution means you must be against human dignity and freedom?

LFaT: Wilders criticises a religious text.

Not really. He also thinks Muslims are terrorists because they are ‘Muslim’. Which in effect means he think they’re all potential terrorists (which is why he wants the Qu’ran banned (and I thought you were defending a man who believed in free speech?) and wants to specifically barr Muslims from coming into the country. So if we enacted a law that specifically barred Jews from coming into the UK you wouldn’t think that was racist? Furthermore, he is inciting hatred by implying that all Muslims = terrorists. If he was solely focused on theology I wouldn’t have an issue.

As for Phelps – the United States also has laws against inciting hatred against minorities. So if they haven’t been arrested and charged there, on what grounds shouldn’t they be allowed in again? You’re all over the place.
Same for Farrakhan – could you please point me to him specifically inciting violence against Jews?

You’re against Phelps and Farrakhan inciting hatred but not Wilders. Typical.

The aim of the HRA is to “give further effect” in UK law to the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. It makes available in UK courts a remedy for breach of a Convention right, without the need to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. So what is your problem with taking it all as one except an attempt to confuse ?
We had the right to fair trial before.We had laws that had evolved without the help of foreign imposition that provided admirable justice . Yes tin pot dictators who think they have sole access to knowledge have always wanted to replace Parliament and now they are getting their way. Its nice to see you revealing yourself , you do not want Parliament because it may disagree with .You wish to impose a set of vague platitudes over and above our system all of which only empower the criminal and terrorists without any symmetrical duties or constraints . You wish to do it though Europe because by that route democracy can be circumvented
My objection is that our law enshrined a communitarian belief system still over whelmingly subscribed to by the British which is that our freedoms are connected with our Nation and that this implies duties and a commonality that suits us as a people ,an imagined community . It is the orderly queue writ large . This is heart of the famous British respect for the law ,( something relatively lacking on the Continent where need Napoleonic edicts simply to behave reasonably )

The HRA seeks to usurp the National character as expressed in the weave of its laws and institutions and impose an international order we do not want or need and did not vote for . It has been the tool of the progressive and his /her specific agenda which is anti National but cannot get any purchase at the ballot box .

“an imagined community”

Yes, that pretty much sums it up. I’d go for ‘imaginary’, but ‘imagined’ will do.

Sunny, Wilders was not barred on the grounds that he himself would commit any crime.

Newmania, I’m willing to debate with you but not if you are going to lie about what I want and don’t want.

The Human Rights Act is not identical to the Convention – that is why I do not “take it all as one”.

Yes we did have the right to a fair trial before the Human Rights Act and indeed the Convention. But the Convention did not get rid of that right – on the contrary, it was our Parliament that eroded it through via the statute book, and our executive that infringes this right when it uses this legislation against people. The Convention (and HRA) has given those people the right to challenge that. Yet you think this is a good thing.

I do not want to get rid of Parliament, what a ridiculous thing for you to claim about me. Of course I strongly object when Parliament erodes our right to a fair trial. Parliament could (not would, but could) vote to pass a law that completely abolishes fair trial. Would that be acceptable to you on the grounds that Parliament did it?

And how on earth has the HRA empowered criminals and terrorists?

John
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imagined_communities
Back in your box ..shoo

UK Lib- Maybe you are right .Its possible I suppose that Red Hundal may establish his socialist utopia in this country and while I will languish in Hebridean Gulag following a short show trial during which I admit in tears that I am insufficiently committed to Hundalisms glorious plan for the people . Under such circumstances I might wish to make an appeal based on the HRA who knows ….


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