Solicitor general assures us that rights are safe in this government's hands.
You may dismiss this as delusional ravings, but recently I underwent a paradigm shift in my time-dimension continuum and found myself in an alternative (and arguably, better) parallel universe.
I was in a space that bore an uncanny resemblance to the Law Society’s common room. And I was surrounded by humanoids, looking not dissimilar to lawyers I’d met in my previous being.
But what made me fear I was losing my tenuous hold on reality was the humanoid at the podium. He told us that he was the solicitor general, Robert Buckland QC - he did, in fact, bear a close resemblance to that distinguished gentleman - and that he was ‘here today to reflect on human rights’.
The second-most senior lawyer in the coalition government, a government that has consistently threatened to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, proceeded to tell a spellbound audience at the Law Society’s annual human rights conference: ‘I have been a human rights lawyer… for nearly 25 years.’
Buckland is not the only politician in his party to embrace human rights, we learned. ‘Business and human rights… has been a priority of this government during its time in office – at home and abroad.’
I pinched myself. And no, I was not dreaming. Or maybe I dreamed that I pinched myself. But whether I self-harmed or not, Buckland launched into a spirited account of the coalition’s (hitherto muted) championship of human rights.
‘Human rights are entwined into all aspects of [our] legal work,’ Buckland declaimed over the soaring of trumpets. ‘The leadership of the UK’s legal community in its human rights work is widely recognised internationally.
‘We expect British companies to respect human rights law, wherever in the world they may operate… British business should be, and is, seen as both a protector and a promoter of human rights.’
Stirring words, indeed! Who needs the European Court of Human Rights, with its unelected judges, not to mention rulings that have at times made our prime minister feel ‘sick’, when justice is in the hands of our solicitor general?
And yet, cautioned Buckland: ‘Much more work needs to be done. In particular, much more attention needs to be given to the issue of remedy… redress for the victims of human rights abuses, and the prevention of any further abuse, are the measure by which the effectiveness of the business and human rights agenda will be judged.’
‘Oh brave new world that has such people in’t!’ I felt impelled to intone, in bard-like mode. All that nonsense about cutting legal aid, out-pricing claimants from employment tribunals, spinning stories about fat-cat human rights lawyers, the tyrannies of Strasbourg and Brussels, terrorists allowed to stay in the UK because they share a pet with their British partner.
All that nonsense was an illusion!
But then, alas, with my new-found facility to switch both temporally and poetically, I had to mutter: ‘Till human voices wake us, and we drown.’
The human voice in question was Anthony Robinson’s, a barrister and member of the Law Society’s human rights committee. He had ventured that the solicitor general, whose government stands accused in some circles of relentlessly undermining the value of human rights, had spoken with a ‘forked tongue’.
And so I found myself spirited back to Chancery Lane, 2014. But then what else could I have expected? After all, to quote TS Eliot for a second time: ‘Mankind cannot bear very much reality.’
Jonathan Rayner is Gazette staff writer