On human rights, the UK should not be a law unto itself

The parliamentary Committee on Arms Export Controls is about to publish a report into the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.  It appears as though British-made weapons have been used to commit human rights abuses in Yemen.

Its draft report, seen by Newsnight’s Gabriel Gatehouse, said: “The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition is now so great, that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia.”

The committee said it seemed “inevitable” that such violations had involved arms supplied by the UK which would mean it was in violation of its own legal obligations.

I’m not sure, but I think the phrase “its own legal obligations” means aspects of UK law that prohibt certain kinds of sale.

It’s stuff like this that makes me (and human rights groups) extremely distrustful of the Conservative Government’s proposed ‘Bill of Rights’.  This is a proposal to place our human rights protections entirely within the UK legal framework, with no reference to the law and jurisprudence of European Court of Human Rights.

As the Saudi arms sales story shows, this Government, in keeping with all past and future governments, cannot really be trusted to abide by its own rules and laws!  There is therefore something extremely comforting about the European Convention on Human Rights, which is a treaty and an obligation that other countries can hold us to (and of course, we can hold them to it as well).

On human rights, I’m glad that Britain is not currently a ‘law unto itself’ and fear for the time when that changes.

Jeremy Corbyn Is Not Doing His Job And Should Resign

Jeremy Corbyn, rendered in Waterlogue

Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn MP has two jobs and two job titles. First, he is Leader of the Labour Party, a position to which he was elected by a majority of those eligible to vote, in every voter category (members, registered supporters, affiliates).  If that were the whole story then a leadership challenge would be completely undemocratic and wrong.

However, Mr Corbyn is also Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition.  This is not some ceremonial title you get when elevated to a particular position, like Lord of the Isles or Second Lord of the Treasury. Instead it is a post that fulfills a crucial rôle in our democracy, scrutinising Government actions and Bills on behalf of the entire country, including people who did not vote Labour.  Just as the Prime Minister (First Lord of the Treasury, by the way) is accountable and answerable to everyone, so too is the Leader of the Opposition. Continue reading “Jeremy Corbyn Is Not Doing His Job And Should Resign”

The New Snooping Bill Needs a Total Rewrite

Don't Spy On Us

Yesterday I wrote again in defence of politicians.  Many of the frustrations that give rise to ‘anti-politics’ are borne of people not understanding how politics works: there is a constant need to compromise and any hard choice will end up disappointing people.

Sometimes, however, the anti-political feeling is justified.  I have rarely been as angry with politicians as I was when the coalition government passed the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act in just two days in 2014.  This legislation made lawful a number of mass violations of privacy that the security services had been caught doing without public or parliamentary consent.  The politicians from all parties made mendacious arguments in favour of the new law, claiming an ’emergency’ when there was none.

From that low point, my faith in parliament is slowly being restored. Continue reading “The New Snooping Bill Needs a Total Rewrite”

Surveillance: It’s not all about you

The Investigatory Powers Bill will be published tomorrow.  The Home Secretary will set out her vision for what snooping powers the security services should have in their tool-box, and also what oversight parliament, the judiciary, and independent ‘watchdogs’ should have over the use of those powers.

I work for English PEN, one of the six organisations leading the Don’t Spy On Us campaign.  Be in no doubt I will be sharing our analysis of the proposed new law and recommendations for improvement.

A constant issue regarding civil liberties (and one that we have discussed before on these pages) is how to convince members of the public to care about human rights when few of us ever actually experience a violation of those rights.  In the past, I have discussed the idea of ‘everyday rights‘ and the notion that, even if we are not tortured or detained, our lives are made marginally worse when our rights are eroded, even in small ways. Continue reading “Surveillance: It’s not all about you”

A Grim Future for our Unions and our Rights

Crikey. I’m dismayed by the result of the general election.

First, I should note just how wrong my own perception of the election campaign turned out to be!  After the leaders debates I said I expected Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister in May. That is clearly not going to happen.  And earlier this week I said I perceived a decline in the influence of the mainstream media on election campaigns.  After the apparent last minute shift in voters’ intentions, that appears to be incorrect.

However, my dismay comes not from the injury to my pride which results from making poor predictions.  Rather, it’s the prospect of what comes next for our unions (yes, unions plural) and our rights as citizens.

First, the fact that David Cameron will attempt to govern alone with a minority government, or a slender majority, will mean that the more Euroskeptic elements to the the right of the Conservative party will be able to hold him to ransom—just as the SNP would have apparently held a Labour government hostage.  The Conservatives have already promised that we will have a referendum on our membership of the European Union.  We now face the prospect of leaving the EU, sundering and cauterising our cultural and economic links with the continent.  This isolation will not be good for the UK.

A ‘Brexit’ will further strengthen the already jubilant Scottish National Party.  Despite the slightly skewed results that our ‘first past the post’ system delivers I just do not see how another referendum on Scottish Independence can still be ‘off the table’. For goodness sake—all but three MPs in Scotland are from the SNP!   If the UK leaves the EU, and with the other parties’ reduced political presence, another plebiscite on Independence would probably yield a ‘Yes’ vote.  Bye bye Scotland.

Finally, the Conservatives have also promised to scrap the Human Rights Act, a pledge that lawyers think is ‘legally illiterate’.  The so-called ‘British Bill of Rights’ will water down the rights that we currently enjoy.  And since the Tories gutted legal aid provision and squeezed the judicial review process, it will be harder than ever for citizens to hold the government to account when it deploys discriminatory policies against us.  

So by the time of the next general election in 2020, there is a very good chance that those of us living in rUK will have lost the political protections of the EU, will have lost the guarantee that out human rights will be protected, and will have lost a progressive political counter-weight to the Tories that may be found in Scotland. And the right-wing media will cheer it all.

Grim, grim grim.

Twitter Asbos would squeeze freedom of expression without curbing anti-Semitic hatred

First published in the International Business Times.

Last week, the Community Security Trust, a charity that records attacks and harassment against Jews living in the UK, recorded 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents in 2014 — double the figure reported in the previous year.

On Monday, a group of British MPs published a report noting that whenever there is heightened conflict in the Middle-East, the rate of crime against Jews in the UK increases. The All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism (APPGAA) also noted that the problem “continues to emanate from Islamist extremists, far-left and far-right groups” and made a number of recommendations to government, the police and the media to combat the issue.

The APPGAA report singles out social media as “a breeding ground for serious discriminatory and racist content” and recommends that the Crown Prosecution Service explores the use of prevention orders in cases where someone has been prosecuted for cyber-hate. Offenders would have their devices confiscated and be banned from using social media. The newspapers have labelled this idea ‘Twitter ASBOs’. Continue reading “Twitter Asbos would squeeze freedom of expression without curbing anti-Semitic hatred”

Dear Lord King: Ludditry is not cool, it’s dangerous

Oh! This puts me in such a bad mood.

https://twitter.com/jjvincent/status/560082501075742721

Lord King is author of amendments tabled last week to the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill. They would have granted the government surveillance powers without proper checks and balances. Arguing in favour of the changes, Lord King admitted he did not use social media and did not understand apps like WhatsApp or SnapChat. Continue reading “Dear Lord King: Ludditry is not cool, it’s dangerous”

Debunking the myth that MPs are lazy and selfish

IMG_7126.JPG

On the Spectator blog, Isabel Hardman does a fantastic job in exposing a particular internet meme as a straightforward lie.

You probably know the message in question. It’s the one that has two pictures of the House of Commons side by side – one empty chamber, labelled ‘debate on welfare’ (or something like that); and another of a full chamber, with the label ‘debating MPs’ salaries’. The idea being that MPs are lazy and selfish.

I’ve just posted a comment on the article, and thought I may as well paste it here too. It fits very nicely with the counter-cultural ‘politicians aren’t all bad’ contrariness of other offerings.

Continue reading “Debunking the myth that MPs are lazy and selfish”

How British values influence the European Court of Human Rights

In the past few months, I’ve given over a couple of posts to the Labour Party and human rights. See my report of Yvette Cooper’s speech, or Sadiq Khan’s speech, for example. As such, its worth bookmarking a recent Daily Telegraph piece by Khan, on the Human Rights Act, and Britain’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights.

The lay-reader may appreciate a quick overview of these human rights mechanisms. First, the European Convention on Human Rights incorporates basic protections into a Europe-wide treaty. The UK government must protect human rights because it has signed a treaty saying it shall do so—the rights have not been ‘imposed’ on us by European bureaucrats. The convention also establishes a court (at Strasbourg) to hear cases of human rights abuses. We in UK and the other signatory states are bound by the rulings of the court because we chose to sign the treaty. Continue reading “How British values influence the European Court of Human Rights”