I wish profoundly to disagree with the opinions of Richard Castle (‘Human Rights Act – time for a rethink’).
The concept of human rights is not part ‘of a social contract’, as he put it, adding: ‘With rights there are associated responsibilities. Emphasis on rights alone gives a false position and the ensuing culture of entitlement harms society.’
Going down that path leads eventually to a position where torture is justified, something our own highest court does not accept.
As the European Court of Human Rights held last year, the ‘very essence of the convention was respect for human dignity and… the object and purpose of the convention an instrument for the protection of individual human beings…’ (Svinarenko and Slyadnev v Russia (app. Nos. 32541/08 & 43441/08) 17 July, 2014).
The theory behind the European Convention on Human Rights, as with the UN conventions and the US Bill of Rights, is that it sets out certain principles which we believe govern civilised states.
It is right that those principles are general, so that the facts of individual cases are interpreted in the light of those fundamental rights. And they are rights. We are all entitled to say ‘I have a right not to be treated in a way that breaches those principles’.
I do not accept the argument, so often raised, that we do not need the convention because it merely replicates our own common law. The embarrassingly large number of successful cases in the ECtHR pre-1998 demonstrates how far our common law had departed from these principles.
One of the enlightening consequences of the 1998 act is the judicial bringing of the common law back in line with the principles of the convention.
Steven Jonas, partner, criminal department, Jonas Roy Bloom, Birmingham