Govt calls for ‘common sense’ approach to human rights

The lord chancellor today called for a “common sense” interpretation of the Human Rights Act, branding the suggestion that it protects criminals at the expense of public safety “nonsense”.

Launching Human Rights: Common Values, Common Sense, Lord Falconer defended the essence of the legislation but said it had been poorly interpreted on occasion.

In response, the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) has called on public services, including the police and prison service, to work with ministers to diffuse public concerns.

It has today published a new guide, Making Sense of Human Rights, to help bodies implement a “common sense” version of the legislation.

Lord Falconer conceded that high profile cases – such as Derbyshire police’s refusal to release photos of two escaped murderers to ‘protect their human rights’ – had undermined public confidence in the act.

However, he maintained that “human rights are there to protect the public, not put people at risk”.

“Too often much of the real importance of human rights has been clouded by nonsense,” he argued.

“Human rights and common sense go together. There have been problems with how human rights and the Human Rights Act have been interpreted.”

Speaking to BBC News 24, Lord Falconer maintained that “sensible conclusions” would have been reached if the spirit of human rights had been followed.

“If it’s not common sense it is not likely to be human rights,” the lord chancellor stated.

He branded as “absolute nonsense” the manner in which the legislation had been interpreted in some incidences.

As an “incredibly bad example” of its use, he cited the case of a suspected car thief who was allowed to order fried chicken by police who wrongly believed it was his “entitlement” during a siege.

Acknowledging that the government should perhaps have gone on the defensive sooner to defend the legislation against media and public criticisms, Lord Falconer pledged that it would now work to “bust these myths”.

However, the Liberal Democrats dismissed today’s action as “too little, too late”.

Shadow leader of the house David Heath welcomed Lord Falconer’s comments but questioned why it has taken the government so long to defend its “flagship legislation” from attack.

“For too long the British public have been fed myths about the Human Rights Act, fuelled by idiotic decisions by junior officials that bear no relation to either human rights or common sense.

“It’s time that the record was put straight, so that people understand that the Human Right Act defends the rights of citizens against the state, not the rights of the criminals against the public.”

David Cameron last year called for the act to be scrapped in favour of a British bill of rights.

His criticisms followed the High Court’s decision to allow nine Afghanis – who had hijacked a plane into the country, prompting a four day stand-off at Stansted airport – to remain in Britain as refugees. The court ruled that deporting them would be an abuse of their human rights.

At the time Tony Blair branded the ruling an “abuse of common sense”.