Human rights ‘as British as beer’

Human rights are “as British as bitter beer” but people have to understand them better, the lord chancellor has said.

Lord Falconer said the idea that human rights were imposed from Europe was wrong saying they were “British to the core” and if anything, had been transferred to Europe.

But a review into the Human Rights Act (HRA) launched earlier this summer revealed the law was “widely misunderstood by the public”, and sometimes applied wrongly.

The study was prompted by a report into the murder of Naomi Bryant by convicted rapist Anthony Rice, which found public protection officials placed more emphasis on his human rights than the risk he posed to the public.

Publishing the review in London this morning, Lord Falconer said it revealed “deficiencies in training and guidance” which led to an “imbalance”, where too much attention was paid to individuals’ rights at the expense of the wider community.

These had led not only to serious problems – such as the Bryant murder – but to a mistaken perception about what the Human Rights Act was supposed to do.

He cited a recent “utterly nonsensical” case about a serial jewel thief in London who was captured on CCTV while robbing a shop. The owner wanted to distribute the stills of the video, but was told by police that such a move would infringe the thief’s rights.

But Lord Falconer said this was ridiculous and the shop owner should publish the photos, noting: “The Human Rights Act needs to be understood. Its value, what it stands for, what it achieves for all of us, needs to be better appreciated by practitioners and the public.”

The review’s conclusions have led to the creation of new guidance for public sector managers on how to interpret the act, which includes the clear statement that it should have no impact on criminal law or fighting crime.

“If we are to win public confidence in human rights the act must be applied with confidence and applied with accuracy,” Lord Falconer said.

“We should not be in a position in which we are having to defend the importance of human rights, we should be advocates not apologists.”

He also repeated the argument made by a number of senior ministers and judges recently that the only way Britain would fight terrorism was by presenting an image of a different society, one where freedom and tolerance were the rule.