UK Liberty

Melanie Phillips

Posted in law and order, state-citizen relationship by ukliberty on March 3, 2009

Melanie Phillips with some ill-informed, incoherent rubbish and derogatory comments about people who support civil liberties (“the chattering classes“).

Phillips holds the “civil liberties lobby” to blame for “Big Brother Britain”. She mentions the Convention of Modern Liberty bringing together people from across the political spectrum, but “Like all bandwagons, however, this one needs a beady eye cast over it, not least because of its occasional note of hysteria … Its claim that Britain is turning into a police state is clearly over the top”.

It is perhaps worth noting that there is not one mention of “police state” on the Convention’s site

There is the well-worn claim of “alarmism” over CCTV and DNA profiling, and how this pays “scant regard to their usefulness in catching criminals”.  This is odd because it seems to me the “civil liberties lobby” in fact appreciates that CCTV and DNA profiling helps catch criminals.  Indeed what I want is better CCTV and DNA profiling, and less inappropriate usage – and it isn’t made better by putting CCTV everywhere and putting everyone on the DNA database. There are principled and pragmatic reasons not to do so.

Phillips does recognise that we should “be concerned about some of the ways in which freedom is being compromised”, giving the examples of local councils and other public bodies using RIPA inappropriately, and she seems to object to CCTV watching us buy alcohol in pubs and supermarkets.

She also seems to object to the secret inquests provisions in the Coroners and Justice Bill, and the Intercept Modernisation Programme.

Phillips says, “These are very real concerns.”

But of course these aren’t, in her view, the fault of Parliamentarians passing objectionable legislation and the willingness of others to use and abuse the legislation.  No, it’s the “fault of the civil liberties lobby” for “this state of affairs”.

Under [human rights] law, judges have been handed the power to balance rights against each other. And time and again, they have come down in favour of the rights of terror suspects, illegal immigrants and common criminals against the rights of indigenous, law-abiding people. So it’s a bit rich for the liberty campaigners to claim that fear of terrorism has eroded human rights.

I’m not sure who has claimed that fear of terrorism has eroded human rights.   As far as I can see we have been blaming the Labour Government and its supporters for the last eleven years.  Now, they may have been motivated by fear of terrorism, or stoked the fear of terrorism in the public and thereby seen public support for erosions and infringements.  But ultimately it is Parliamentarians who voted aye who are to blame. 

This bit is weird:

But the human rights law these campaigners foisted upon us has taken a judicial axe to that principle by making judges the arbiters of our freedoms. 

In doing so, they deliberately transferred power from Parliament to the courts. And the inevitable consequence of that has been that MPs lost power to the judges. This weakening of Parliament has enabled the Labour Government to use Parliamentary procedure to short-circuit debate and force through legislation without proper scrutiny. 

Parliament isn’t at all weak.  The problem with Parliament at the moment is that there are too many Parliamentarians willing to vote aye to objectionable proposals, and a Government that keeps churning out legislation but not allowing (again via its supporters) enough time to properly scrutinise it. Indeed it is quite extraordinary that legislation can get to the statute book without those who voted on it being required to actually read it first.

This has nothing to do with civil liberties campaigners or judges at all.

A more robust Parliament would have prevented the Government passing those laws which threaten our fundamental freedoms. But over the past few years, Westminster has had the stuffing knocked out of it by a series of measures, including human rights law, whose purpose was to destroy this country’s constitutional settlement and powers of democratic self-government.

Civil liberties campaigners and judges have no power to prevent Parliamentarians from passing objectionable laws.

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2 Responses

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  1. Britcit said, on March 3, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    I quite agree. I wonder if Melanie Phillips would be taking the line that it’s all the fault of that pesky Human Rights Act if she had heard Lord Bingham’s speech at the convention:

    “During the Second World War, when the survival of this nation really was on the line, a committee chaired by Lord Sankey, a very distinguished former Lord Chancellor, set out to answer a question raised by H.G. Wells in 1939. The question was: ‘What are we fighting for?’ The committee’s answer was a declaration of rights published in 1947.”

    That’s the problem with the Phillips line. Human rights aren’t some troublesome, essentially foreign commitment foisted on us from outside, they came directly out of the Allies’ experience of fighting the world war.

    Sure, there have been some hiccups (and bizarre decisions) as the HRA has been integrated into UK law, but to blame human rights for the current crisis of civil liberties is just bizarre.

  2. guyaitchison said, on March 4, 2009 at 12:51 am

    Bizarre’s the word. The claim that Parliament is too weak to oppose illiberal legislation because the HRA has taken Parliament’s power and given it to the courts makes no sense and could only have been made by someone who is utterly confused as to how our constitutional arrangements work.

    The HRA has, if anything, strengthened the potential for Parliament to scrutinise legislation for compatibility with rights and freedoms, by establishing fixed opportunities for pre-legislative rights review – most notably in the form of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. If this has proven largely ineffective it is because there was no concomitant constitutional reforms to weaken the executive’s grip over Parliament.

    It is hardly the fault of human rights law if the executive can “short-circuit debate and force through legislation without proper scrutiny”. It’s possible things would be much much worse if the HRA didn’t provide parliamentarians with some of the legal tools and opportunities required to pick apart the government’s avalanche of illiberal legislation. Equally, it might be argued that the HRA has given a veneer of respectability to the government’s agenda and made parliamentarians complacent, leading them to neglect their scrutiny role in the belief that the courts will pick up any rights-violating measures at a later date.

    Neither of these possibilities would support Phillips’s mad claims, but if I had to go with one of them, I’d guess the former is true: things would be even worse without the HRA.

    Anyway, I suppose it’s pleasing to know we are now a “bandwagon”!


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