Monday, June 26, 2006

The Trouble with Rights in Britain

You must love Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom. Upon hearing the news that the Conservative Leader David Cameron would support a Bill of Rights for Britain (Ronald Dworkin must be smiling and whinging all at once!), Falconer is quoted by the BBC as saying that the Tories are trying to re-write human rights whenever "they seem inconvenient" (see here).

The only proper response to this is to wonder which planet Lord Falconer inhabits. Whatever one's view, there are several inconvenient facts about human rights and Lord Falconer:
  • He saw nothing inconvenient about Guantanamo Bay when it first erected. Many commentators thought its construction ghastly. Not so with the Blair government which delayed trying to free British citizens from "Gitmo"----imagine the Americans doing, you can't imagine that happening either.
  • He saw nothing inconvenient about the Iraq War. No human rights abuses here: Lord Falconer was a staunch supporter.
  • He saw nothing inconvenient about scrapping the right to trial by jury. It is a curiosity that in the land that introduced the modern trial by jury, the same land would try to effectively end it in virtually every case. A post on the jury trial on this blog will be forthcoming, suffice to say there is simply no good reason to get rid of it and every reason to expand it. (See my own papers here and here.)
  • Finally, he saw nothing "inconvenient" about scrapping his own office on the back of a napkin in recent reforms......until he saw how difficult it would be as it hasn't happened yet. As has been widely reported, the office of the Lord Chancellor was to be scrapped. This was agreed by Tony Blair on the back of a napkin. Granted: the office is peculiar and raises serious issues about separation of powers. My complaint is not that it should be scrapped. Instead, it is rather curious that a thousand years of having a particular office would be scrapped overnight, reported as nothing special, and then nothing comes of it is, well, as odd as it gets.

In short, this Lord Chancellor has found human rights highly inconvenient, indeed. From Gitmo to the rights of the accused to fair trial and beyond, he has sought to change the rules when it might benefit his party. He's certainly no one can cast a stone in this glass house....

...nevertheless, one can hardly be surprised by politicians who cry foul when others play the same game they are. One only hopes that the British public see the Lord Chancellor's fib as just that.


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