On the 10th June 2015, Henry Smith MP wrote an article in the Crawley Observer regarding modern human rights.
I am concerned that the information provided was misguided, and I hope to use this as an opportunity to clarify some of the arguments put forward.
Mr Smith noted that human rights existed prior to the 1998 Human Rights Act. The rights which did exist were grossly inadequate for the pace of societal and technological change from the 1970s onwards. For example, there was little recognition of the right to privacy within English common law.
I shudder to think what Britain’s counter terrorism measures would look like without the Human Rights Act protecting our right to privacy throughout Labour’s tidal wave of counter terrorism legislation in the years following 9/11. We should therefore be very proud of the Human Rights Act as a brake on government power. Let’s not forget that indefinite detention of foreign nationals was stopped because of the Human Rights Act.
Mr Smith also noted that the European Court of Human Rights should be unable to overrule the UK Supreme Court. The only way to change this is to leave the court’s jurisdiction. Belarus is the only other country in Europe not a member; a country not exactly a bastion of freedom. Furthermore, the British courts are not bound to follow rulings by the European Court of Human Rights but merely take them into account as guidance on a case by case basis.
It seems there is also a high level of misunderstanding of the judgment on prison sentences. The court did not say life sentences are inhumane. In short, the court said that a prisoner receiving a life sentence must be afforded review of that sentence by the parole board, particularly if new evidence has come to light afterwards.
This is to avoid miscarriages of justice which have occurred in the past; one famous example of this is the ‘Guildford four’ who were found to be innocent after serving 25 years in prison. Surely such a review process is necessary in any democratic society?
Mr Smith, the Human Rights Act is by no means perfect, and I welcome any debate on its contents. But, such a debate has to be based on fact and evidence rather than misunderstanding.
Marko Scepanovic, Crawley
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