Clegg attacks "myths" about human rights

Deputy Prime Minister defends Human Rights Act, following Cameron's pledge to re-examine the legisla

Nick Clegg has issued a strong defence of Human Rights law, indicating that his party will stand in the way of any Conservative attempts to water down the legislation.

Writing in the Guardian, Clegg stressed his common ground with David Cameron -- namely, over the misrepresentation of the Act -- but it is clear that his article is intended to refute claims made by the Prime Minister after the riots. Speaking in the aftermath of the disturbances, Cameron pledged to re-examine legislation, saying that he would not be restrained by "phoney human rights" concerns.

Let's compare and contrast some of the points they made.

On the overall impact of the Act, Clegg staunchly defends the legislation, which defends the most vulnerable:

I believe [incorporating the Human Rights Act into domestic law] was a hugely positive step which has done three things: it has ended the long delays people used to experience before they could get a hearing at Strasbourg, embedded the principles of the ECHR in our own courts, and sent a powerful message to the rest of the world about the value we place on human rights. So as we continue to promote human rights abroad, we must ensure we work to uphold them here at home. We have a proud record that we should never abandon.

Meanwhile, Cameron, in his post-riots speech, was careful to emphasise the "interpretation" of the Act, but remains overwhelmingly negative, lumping human rights laws together with health and safety culture:

The truth is, the interpretation of human rights legislation has exerted a chilling effect on public sector organisations, leading them to act in ways that fly in the face of common sense, offend our sense of right and wrong, and undermine responsibility.

Clegg also appears to implicitly criticise the harsh sentences handed out after the riots, and with those advocating a law and order crackdown:

This myth [that human rights are a foreign invention] panders to a view that no rights, not even the most basic, come without responsibilities; that criminals ought to forfeit their very humanity the moment they step out of line; and that the punishment of lawbreakers ought not to be restrained by due process.

Cameron, on the other hand, stood behind the legal response:

Last week we saw the criminal justice system deal with an unprecedented challenge: the courts sat through the night and dispensed swift, firm justice. We saw that the system was on the side of the law-abiding majority...

I am determined we sort it out and restore people's faith that if someone hurts our society, if they break the rules in our society, then society will punish them for it.

It is not the first time the two leaders have disagreed over human rights legislation (Clegg supports voting rights for prisoners, while Cameron does not), but Clegg's defence is a much-needed contribution to the pubic debate on the matter. Indeed, Ed Miliband might be wishing that he had written it.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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New Digital Editor: Serena Kutchinsky

The New Statesman appoints Serena Kutchinsky as Digital Editor.

Serena Kutchinsky is to join the New Statesman as digital editor in September. She will lead the expansion of the New Statesman across a variety of digital platforms.

Serena has over a decade of experience working in digital media and is currently the digital editor of Newsweek Europe. Since she joined the title, traffic to the website has increased by almost 250 per cent. Previously, Serena was the digital editor of Prospect magazine and also the assistant digital editor of the Sunday Times - part of the team which launched the Sunday Times website and tablet editions.

Jason Cowley, New Statesman editor, said: “Serena joins us at a great time for the New Statesman, and, building on the excellent work of recent years, she has just the skills and experience we need to help lead the next stage of our expansion as a print-digital hybrid.”

Serena Kutchinsky said: “I am delighted to be joining the New Statesman team and to have the opportunity to drive forward its digital strategy. The website is already established as the home of free-thinking journalism online in the UK and I look forward to leading our expansion and growing the global readership of this historic title.

In June, the New Statesman website recorded record traffic figures when more than four million unique users read more than 27 million pages. The circulation of the weekly magazine is growing steadily and now stands at 33,400, the highest it has been since the early 1980s.