The Tories, helped by their lickspittle Tory tabloids, are building up a huge wave of hysteria not only against Romanian and Bulgarian immigramts, but also against the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Human Rights Act which it brought into UK law. They quote the large number of human rights cases taken to Strasbourg -2,082 in this last year – but they don’t admit how many were actually upheld by the ECHR. The answer is 12, or 0.5%.
They also don’t say why so many cases are taken to the ECHR in the first place. The answer is that human rights are not upheld in this country as well as they could, and should, be. Nor do they mention the kind of cases that end up in the ECHR – protecting the rights of care workers, for example, or the right to wear a crucifix at work, or the lifting of the ban on homosexuality in the armed forces. It is cases like this which, astonishingly, have led Home Secretary May to announce publicly that she is actually contemplating the renunciation of the European convention.
Even the UK judges themselves have come round to the view that if there is problem between the ECHR and the UK courts. it is less to do with Europe or the Human Rights Act than with the UK judges themselves. The view of the judicial Establishment is that the problem, if it is a problem, stems from the UK courts being over-respectful of, and over-accommodating to, Strasbourg decisions to which the UK has not been a party. It is ironic that that goes against the intention of the Human Rights Act itself, which explicitly allows judicial discretion to take account where necessary of national cultural norms. This space could be used, and it is intended should be used, to give human rights law a specifically British angle.
The row has of course largely centred on the ECHR objection to the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners voting. Yet it is clearly in breach of the principle of the right to vote when it is applied even to those who are detained pending a trial, let alone having been convicted. The Tories take this ECHR ruling as a breach of British sovereignty. That is absurd and hysterical. Worse, it reveals all too clearly how fundamental rights in this country will be severely at risk if the Tories are obsessional enough to tamper with the HRA.