The European elections are just a week away. Join me for a brisk walk through the manifestos.
By now you will have taken time to interrogate the parties’ European election manifestos. You will have ruminated with furrowed brow upon how their policies on the rule of law and access to justice will influence your vote on 22 May.
Or perhaps you were washing your hair that night.
Never mind. Let me save you the trouble.
The first thing to note is that brevity would seem to correlate with popularity. Buoyant UKIP, ahead in the polls, has produced a reductive eight-page document which - let us be scrupulously fair - is entirely in keeping for a libertarian party that believes in small government.
Most of it is comprised of (reportedly ill-advised) imagery. What else there is predictably reprises the party’s stance on its twin bugbears – the EU and immigration. In promoting ‘Brexit’, UKIP declares that it is principally the UK’s 4.8 million smaller businesses that suffer from the ‘burden of EU laws and regulations’.
It adds, colourfully: ‘Since 2010, 3,600 new laws have been imposed on us by the European Union. With an estimated 13 million words, they would take 92 days to read.’
The European Court of Human Rights, ‘which still wants to give prisoners the vote’, remains firmly within UKIP’s populist sights: ‘It also prevents convicted terrorists from being deported. UKIP will leave the EU and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. Parliament should decide fairer human rights laws.’
What these ‘fairer’ human rights laws would look like is not disclosed.
The Conservative Party, weighing in at a more substantial 28 pages, adopts similarly pugnacious language in ‘standing up for Britain’ against the egregious ECtHR. The party will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act and curtail the role of the European Court, ensuring that ‘the UK’s Supreme Court is in Britain not Strasbourg’.
But there is rather more substance here: one of the Tories’ six core pledges is to take ‘more control of justice and home affairs’.
The ‘blues’ would strengthen the ‘yellow card’ power for national parliaments and introduce a ‘red card’ so that national parliaments can group together to block new legislation.
Justice gets a whole page to itself, though ‘justice’ in this particular context is treated as more or less synonymous with our old friend, ‘Laura Norder’. So the first pledge is to ‘ensure Westminster and devolved legislatures draw up our laws, British courts apply them and police forces decide how best to deal with crime’.
The party does concede the desirability of some practical co-operation at the European level. But it wants reform of the European Arrest Warrant, to ‘ensure it is not applicable for minor crimes; that alternatives can be used where possible; that lengthy pre-trial detention can be avoided; and that people cannot be extradited for doing things that are not illegal in the UK.’
In the same vein, the UK will be kept out of harmonising measures on criminal law, asylum, immigration and border control that ‘offer no benefit to Britain’. That includes saying ‘no to a European Public Prosecutors Office’.
The Lib Dems - who have the least to look forward to on 22 May, if you believe the psephologists - have the most to say. Rather incongrously (if not unreasonably) the Lib Dems trumpet their success in helping to establish the single European patent. Admirable – but unlikely to garner many additional votes in downtown Droitwich.
‘Laura’ doesn’t take long to appear here, either. The party’s 47-page manifesto is notably more enthusiastic about the EAW, which has been ‘used to bring hundreds of rapists, murderers and paedophiles back to the UK to face justice, and [to deport] over 4,000 criminal suspects back to their own countries’.
The ‘rule of law’ merits its own section heading. When you’re abroad, the Lib Dems want your ‘basic civil liberties to travel with you’. So if you are a victim of crime or if you are arrested in another EU country, ‘you enjoy the same minimum advice, legal rights and standards of treatment as you would in the UK’.
Other Lib Dem priorities include full implementation of ‘Eurobail’, to allow British citizens who have been arrested in another European country to serve their bail back in the UK rather than having to face lengthy pre-trial detention abroad. The UK would also re-join the EU system of transfer of non-custodial sentences such as probation, so British citizens serving community sentences in other countries can be repatriated to complete their sentence.
Like the Tories, the reds are keen on the ‘red card’, a collective emergency brake procedure that could further amplify the voice of national parliaments in making EU legislation.
The party is on more familiar terrain when berating employers who seek to circumvent employment law, promising (rather nebulously) to ‘consult on the case for strengthening laws around exploitation and the undercutting of wages’. One concrete proposal is to increase fines for employers who breach minimum wage laws from £5,000 to £50,000.
Labour takes a swipe at Tory concern over the operation of the EAW, which provides ‘a vital legal process to stop people fleeing justice’. Warming to the theme, it will consult on lowering the sentence threshold for EU migrants who commit crimes having only recently arrived in the UK. So that (for example) a ‘migrant’ (what happened to the word ‘immigrant’?) who committed common assault or robbery within a few months of arriving would be automatically considered for deportation.
In the next parliament, Labour would also support a law which seeks to clamp down on cross-border money laundering.
On human rights, Labour is keen to ensure ‘binding and robust’ human rights clauses are incorporated within free trade agreements. The party nods its approval for the controversial EU-US trade and investment partnership, about which some on the left are decidedly squeamish. City lawyers may be less pleased to hear that it will also extend the Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes regime and open up tax havens.
Did you know the Green Party has issued a public statement backing the PCS union strike over privatisation of Land Registry? That might convert a few solicitors to their cause. This is a party at ease in Europe - in 1989 the Greens achieved their best poll result ever (15%) in the European Elections - which is reflected in a comparatively dense 36-page manifesto. And this is not so much Green as Red – an approximation of what Labour Party manifestos used to look like, or what most people once expected them to look like.
So the Greens will: ensure all statutory employment rights are extended to all workers; and oppose the EU-US trade and investment partnership, which will allow ‘private companies to take legal action against governments for democratically chosen laws and rules via the dispute settlement mechanism’.
Other eyecatching commitments including arguing for a new global framework for intellectual property rights, and setting a permanent moratorium on further extensions of copyright, related rights and patent terms. The Greens’ plan for a pan-European register of lobbyists is equally unlikely to find favour in the City.
There is a great deal too on human rights; with a particular focus on repealing ‘draconian’ anti-terror legislation.
Monster Raving Loonies
No manifesto, alas, alas, but one or two notable policies. The latest, as follows, will surely be triangulated by the rest before the week is out: ‘As there are now so many organisations creating league tables to monitor performance of NHS, Schools, Police, Dustman etc, we in the Loony Party propose to create a League table to monitor compilers of League tables. Those who come at the bottom will be made to sit down and learn their tables (anyone remember them?).’
Paul Rogerson is Gazette editor-in-chief