Human Rights and Nick Robinson

Before the election the Conservative party campaigned on the basis that they would repeal the Human Rights Act. The implication, from some frontbenchers such as bed and breakfast tsar Chris Grayling, was that they would rip up the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and replace it with a British bill of rights.

To anyone with a basic grasp of constitutional principles, never mind an awareness of the legal position,  this was palpable nonsense. The UK is a member of the Council of Europe. It is bound  by the ECHR. Before the Human Rights ACt (HRA)  the UK was bound to follow the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (to abide by our international obligations). The passage of the Human Rights ACt was a mechanism whereby British courts were to be given an opportunity or pronounce on ECHR related matters – from a British perspective, taking account of and paying due respect to the approaches in other countries.

To withdraw from the ECHR the Uk would have to withdraw from the Council of Europe, and as the EU now recognises the ECHR in case law and member states are expected to sign up to the principles of the ECHR, would involve withdrawal from the EU too.

And, this is ignoring the problems on repealing the HRA, and ignoring the ECHR,that would arise within the devolution settlements where each devolved government, and each devolved assembly or parliament is under obligations to act in compliance with the ECHR.

So, any suggestion that the ECHR could be ripped up for Britain, was a non-starter. The idea that a British Bill of Rights could supplant the ECHR was a non-starter too – as long as the UK was a member of the Council of Europe the international obligations would remain, the Uk bound by them (as it was before the HRA).

Of course, when Conservative politicians spoke about the British bill of rights, and the repeal of the HRA before the election they weren’t questioned on the impracticality. At the time I wondered why they weren’t. Why did no hack follow up Grayling’s spiel and ask if the Uk would withdraw from the Council of Europe?

The reality emerged yesterday.

Guess Who model Nick Robinson, BBC political editor, wrote a piece about the tension in the coalition between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on human rights

He wrote,

"Perhaps the easy solution will be for the Tories to stick with the reality of their position pre-election? For months now I’ve been told privately that whatever their manifesto might say they’ve not actually found any way to carry out their promise."

Did he or his colleagues bother asking why? of course not. It’s because even if they repealed the HRA the ECHR would still apply. They can’t do what they pledged without withdrawing from the Council of Europe (and on what basis would any party do that? Because they believe we should be able to torture our citizens?)

He then offers this candid observation in an update.

"The issue of human rights and terror suspects is even more complex than I thought.  Even if Britain replaced the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights we would, I’m told, still be subject to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). "

Well, the penny finally dropped. Whoop de doo, Nick. This is not complex. This is basic principle. And if he didn’t know that – how could he effectively question the Conservatives on their policy pre-election? Oh, that’s right. He didn’t. The Conservatives were not questioned on the policy before the election because the journalists didn’t understand it was cobblers. How can a political editor get to that position without having a basic grasp of constitutional principles?

But what of the party that formulated the policy?

Those that understood it – such as Dominic Grieve – thought the policy a nonsense. So why did it end up in the manifesto? Was it because the people writing the manifesto were too stupid to realise their policy could not be implemented? Or was it because they knew that it could not be implemented – but also knew that with an ignorant media they would not be tested on it?

 ETA Mark Easton, a BBC editor who understands these things, makes a similar substantive point about the relationship between ECHR and HRA. We like him. He knows what he’s talking about.

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About loveandgarbage

I watch the telly and read when not doing law stuff and plugging my decade and a half old unwatched Edinburgh fringe show.
This entry was posted in human rights, ignorant political hacks, nick robinson, politics, Uncategorized, what a clown. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Human Rights and Nick Robinson

  1. matgb says:

    Or maybe those within Tory organisers that did understand it were basically planing on the Bill of Rights to basically be the HRA, with a few tweaks to make it appear more palateable to the lunatic fringe, but without any actual changes in law.
    Combine that with some clarifications to judges about being clearer when they tell lawyers to stop kite flying, etc. Lawyers need to explore all options for their clients, judges could make it clearer when they reject some claims, won’t stop journalists lying, but might hel[p.
    And yes, Robbo’s constitutional illiteracy has become very apparent last few months. At least journos like KrishGM are prepared to ask if they’re not sure.

  2. hoiho says:

    Because they get a double whammy out of it. Firstly, it’s an easy appeal to the Mail and Express readership, who think the ECHR/HRA is nothing but a “criminals charter”. And a foreign one, at that. Then, secondly, a bonus, as when they can’t implement it (as they knew they couldn’t), they can blame Europe — which again plays to the europhobes, and allows them to get all worked up, all without actually having to do anything, and they don’t look like manifesto renegers. Except to the informed, who knew it was impossible, anyway.

  3. elmyra says:

    Oh good, someone finally saying something sane on this subject. I literally screamed at my car radio this morning as John Humphrys was grilling Theresa May on this and the only line of questioning seemed to be “Well, you promised this and now you’re not delivering, did you lie to your voters?” *headdesk*

    • alfaguru says:

      Yes, me too. Especially as the manifesto was the Tory one and as the broadcasters seem unable to comprehend, we don’t have a Tory government as such.
      WE HAVE A COALITION, JOHN! IT’S A DIFFERENT THING! TORY ELECTION PROMISES THEORETICALLY MEAN BUGGER ALL, NOW!
      So many of these interviews are along the same lines:
      “Now, Minister, will you agree to this thing that I want you to say because it’ll make all the news headlines if you do?”
      “Well John I know as well as you do that if I say it I’ll be shot, so I’m going to repeat what I last said instead.”
      “It’s a perfectly reasonable question, just a simple yes or no answer”
      “Since I am not a complete fool I shall continue to repeat the same thing as always because the weather or the sport is coming up and you’ll have to give up then.”
      (sigh) “Thank you Minister.”
      “Thank you, John.”

  4. Anonymous says:

    Utter failure…
    Of journalism in the lead-up to the election.
    Were ANY politicians actually asked about the detail of their promises?

    • matgb says:

      Re: Utter failure…
      Yes; Clegg was asked about them in detail by Paxman and in a few other places.
      The leader they thought least likely to get anywhere was quized in detail, the one they thought most likely was given a free ride on a lot of it.
      And now the media is repeatedly going on about the same stuff; Humphrys sounded daft and churlish interviewing May this morning. Theresa May bested Humphrys on the implications of a coalition. FFS, he should be able to run rings around her, except he knew nothing on the issues so couldn’t.

  5. Remind me, wasn’t the Council Of Europe set up after the war at least in part at the instigation of some guy fond of smoking cigars whose name escapes me for the moment, and set up in a treaty named after a city – again the name escapes me, you know the one, famous clock tower and domed cathedral? I’m sure they’ll come to me…

    • matgb says:

      Tehcnically the clock tower is in the other city on the north bank of that rather windy river with a strange spelling. But I think overall you’re right.

  6. A Tory told me a couple of years ago that we had to get rid of the HRA so that ‘British judges can decide on human rights cases’. I tried explaining that was the point of the HRA, but it just didn’t compute for him.

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  10. John Hirst says:

    Apart from the typos it is spot on. Your thinking is so close to mine the thoughts could have been lifted from my blog. It is time that the UK came clean about the mess it is in from Europe, and be transparent with the public, media and Parliament.

    The Interlaken Process is about applying sanctions to rogue or pariah states. In February Baroness Scotland signed the UK up to this process and once the Interlaken Declaration was laid before both Houses it becomes binding on the UK.

    Joshua Rozenberg was wrong when he wrote that the UK is not in danger of being expelled or suspended from the Council of Europe.

  11. Why don’t we ask Hollie, the new human rights expert of The Sun’s page 3: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/human-rights-with-hollie/

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