Friday, 25 February 2011

Bill of Rights

When complaining bitterly about the House of Lords decision to give sex offenders the right of appeal, David Cameron made worrying comments about the outrageous way Human Rights law interferes with decision making in the British Courts.

It is not the first time he has complained that the law on Human Rights produces perverse decisions in the Courts. He said the same thing about the European Court decision that prisoners ought to be allowed the vote whilst in custody.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the law, fundamental to jurisprudence is the theory of separation of powers. In a well balanced society the functions of the executive, legislative, and administrative powers should remain separate. In other words, Parliament should not try and tell judges what to do. When the judges criticise a decision of government because it was unreasonable, then politicians become jumpy.

Similarly, when the European Parliament tells the British Government how to behave, politicians like David Cameron (there are others) also object.

There should be more respect for the decisions of judges, and less interference from the executive.

There was a time when the Lord Chancellor was held in greater respect by Parliament, principally because he was completely independent. It was Margaret Thatcher who clipped the wings of Lord Hailsham whilst he was Lord Chancellor around 1982, because she didn't like the fact that he stood up to her. She did this by making the position of Lord Chancellor part of the Treasury, and thus answerable to Parliament.

These days, of course, the Lord Chancellor - or Minister of Justice, is part of the Ministry of Justice and completely answerable to Parliament.
We hear time and time again conflict between the judiciary and Parliament. It didn't help when the government interfered with judge's pensions and made them less attractive. Judges didn't like it.

Gordon Brown was less openly confrontational with the judiciary, but nevertheless government was, and remains, less respectful of legal process than it should be.

So what is David Camerons' answer? Introduce a Bill of Rights as a way round Human Rights legislation. What was the attitude of Lord Woolf to this proposal - he didn't like and thought it would produce conflicts, which indeed it will - will David Cameron listen and take heed of such experience and wisdom? Unlikely.

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