Falconer: We are committed to human rights
The government’s commitment to human rights is “long-lasting” and there is no question of repealing the Human Rights Act, Lord Falconer said today.
The constitutional affairs secretary acknowledged concerns that the law appeared to give more support to offenders and immigrants than ‘ordinary’ people, but insisted the problem is “not the letter of the law, but the way it is being used”.
He was responding to Conservative calls to reform or even scrap the 1998 act, which enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK legislation.
David Cameron insisted he would “reform, replace or scrap” the act, after the high court ruled that the legislation prohibited the return of nine Afghan asylum seekers, who hijacked a plane to get to the UK, to their home country.
Concerns were also raised after a report by the chief probation officer found the human rights of offender Anthony Rice, who committed a brutal murder while on probation, were prioritised above public protection.
In a memo to Lord Falconer at the weekend, Tony Blair appeared to call for a review of the Human Rights Act to ease these concerns, and yesterday he said there needed to be a “profound rebalancing of the civil liberties debate”.
But in a speech to the Hansard Society this afternoon, Lord Falconer insisted this did not mean scrapping the act, declaring: “Our commitment to human rights is permanent and long lasting – they are the bedrock on which our society has been built.”
He said the government had to be alert to the way human rights legislation was applied, and provide the training and guidance necessary to protect against the act “becoming corrupted to produce perverse results”.
“The convention rights do not remotely reduce the ability of the state to provide proper protection for its citizens – indeed it imposes an obligation on the state to protect its citizens from death or injury,” Lord Falconer insisted.
In a thinly-veiled attack on Mr Cameron – who has backed a campaign by The Sun to scrap the act – he said creating a “common cause right across the political spectrum to defend these basic rights” would make Britain stronger.
“But it is difficult to pursue consensus if, as the opposition contend, the context is either withdrawal from the convention or the destruction of the very rights on which our society is based,” he said.
Politicians need to emphasise that public safety “must come first”, and say “loud and clear that human rights do not compromise public safety”, Lord Falconer concluded – but at the same time ensure the independence of the judiciary is not undermined.
“We need to explore how we can provide for informed debate on the issues, without applying pressure on judges in terms of individual decisions or by undermining judicial independence in any way,” he added.