LibLink | Nick Clegg: “Human beings need human rights – in Britain as well as Libya”

Nick Clegg writes this evening at Comment is Free on the need for the British government to uphold human rights at home as well as abroad. He describes the strengths of British human rights laws, and reminds that the Liberal Democrats will continue to support them in the face of the Tories’ rhetoric or moves to renegotiate them.

Britain has a proud history of international leadership on human rights. It was our political leadership and legal expertise that led to the creation of the European convention on human rights in 1950, a convention modelled on centuries of English law. That leadership matters now more than ever.

Yet something strange has happened in recent years: while governments have continued the call for greater rights abroad, they have belittled the relevance of rights at home. The Labour government that passed the Human Rights Act then spent years trashing it, allowing a myth to take root that human rights are a foreign invention, unwanted here, a charter for greedy lawyers and meddlesome bureaucrats.

This myth panders to a view that no rights, not even the most basic, come without responsibilities; that criminals ought to forfeit their very humanity the moment they step out of line; and that the punishment of lawbreakers ought not to be restrained by due process.

The reality is that those who need to make use of human rights laws to challenge the decisions of the authorities are nearly always people who are in the care of the state: children’s homes, mental hospitals, immigration detention, residential care. They are often vulnerable, powerless, or outsiders, and are sometimes people for whom the public feels little sympathy. But they are human beings, and our common humanity dictates that we treat them as such.

Nick goes on to warn against manipulation of the Human Rights Act by media and “overcautious lawyers and officials.”

The friends of human rights have the most to gain if we get a grip on this. We must give public officials back the confidence that reasonable decisions taken in the public interest will be defended by the courts – as they usually are when they actually reach the courts.

He concludes by saying that the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law under our own Human Rights Act was a “hugely positive step”:

So as we continue to promote human rights abroad, we must ensure we work to uphold them here at home. We have a proud record that we should never abandon.

Read the full piece at the Guardian.

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16 Comments

  • I’m rarely positive about Clegg these days but want to be the first to aplaud this. He was right to highlight the hypocrisy of those in Labour attacking the very rights they (rightly) put on the statute book. He should though have been equally specifically scathing of the Tories and their wish to scrap the act. There is clear water here and he needs to take every chance to highlight it.

  • Hurray, I was a bit suspicious that our gradual climb up the polls was correlating rather tightly to a relative lack of media exposure for Clegg, but if he is going to publicly celebrate our differences with the Tories that is great.

  • Simon McGrath 26th Aug '11 - 7:48am

    Excellent Stuff. But we also need to the judges to change some of their bizarre interpretions of the Act particularly around the right to family life. We need to be able to deport foreign murderers and rapists even if they have a family here.

  • Can we stop with the rubbish about deporting foreign criminals? Children have a right to family life. Deporting their parents to satisfy a desire for revenge (and so punishing the whole family more than a British person would have been punished for the same crime) stinks to high heaven.

    No civilised country would deport a parent of a child holding that country’s nationality. It’s why, for example, despite endless foot stamping, the British couldn’t get Ronnie Biggs deported from Brazil.

  • Simon McGrath 26th Aug '11 - 9:05am

    @Chris – i disagree. the criminals should have thought of this before committing their crime. you could equally well argue that people with children should not be imprisoned in the first place.

  • Simon McGrath 26th Aug '11 - 9:09am

    @Chris – also its not just about children. the courts have also held that the act applies to people in relationships where no children are involved.

  • Excellent stuff from Clegg.

    @ Simon
    Why should nationality play a role in how severely a criminal is punished? Why should domestic criminals be treated more leniently than those that come from abroad?

  • @Jedibeeftrix

    Human rights are universal, that is why foreign prisoners are treated no differently from UK prisoners under the HRA.

    We could always start treating foreigners as second class members of society though, if that’s what you want?

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