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.