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Finding right balance on human rights.


Human rights appear to have got a lot of bad press recently. The words are bandied about whenever a personal right becomes an issue. Therein lies the problem. We have begun to confuse individual rights with the rights of humanity.

It is particularly the case since the Human Rights Act 1998. This is not surprising as the ambitious aims of the act were spelt out by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg at the second reading of the bill at the House of Lords in 1997: "The bill will bring human rights home. People will be able to argue for their rights and claim remedies under the convention in any court or tribunal in the United Kingdom. Our court will develop human rights throughout the society. A culture and awareness of human rights will develop." You might ask yourself what happened before 1998? Well, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was signed in Rome in 1950. Steps were not taken to align English law with this convention. The Human Rights Act introduced into English law a new code of practice, in many areas of law where it claimed to recognise individual rights against the claims of the state made in the name of the need to preserve public order, the common good or community standards.

In that sentence lies the problem.

If we are to retain a community to uphold the rule of law, then sometimes individual rights need to be of secondary importance.

The Human Rights Act is there to protect everyone in Britain and complements our history of constitutional tradition and protection of people in vulnerable situations.

In December 2012 the Bill of Rights Commission produced a report on whether or not we need our own Bill of Rights in this country. In effect, a British Bill of Rights so that we, in essence, had more ownership. It is not clear to me and I am sure not clear to anybody else why this was needed other than giving us false assurances that Europe will not be ruling our interpretation of the Human Rights Act.

Having a Bill of Rights, like a written constitution, has been the subject of debate now for centuries. The conflict of personal rights over community and, that of the state, will continue to take up plenty of space in tabloid newspapers.

In the end, it is a matter of balance. The solution may be that we all concentrate and appreciate and respect the rights of others before our own.

Mary Kaye is president of Birmingham Law Society
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 31, 2013
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