Human rights are never far from the news, and already this week we have seen a triple helping of stories.
First we had the Conservatives reportedly pursuing the notion of a "British" bill of rights. On Monday the appeal court in London upheld the ruling that service personnel enjoy a measure of protection even in battlefield conditions. And today we have a challenge to Scottish police interview procedures, where a solicitor is not usually present.
It would be premature to attempt to call the result of the latest case, though it is surprising that no challenge has previously been taken if the procedure is basically flawed. What is interesting meantime is that the anti-human rights sentiments so often seen in the press were conspicuously silent in the face of the Court of Appeal ruling. So our brave lads (and lasses) in the front line can claim protection just like a criminal accused. Well, that's the nature of rights, isn't it? They apply to all equally, but those at the sharp end of the law are most likely to want to test how far they extend.
As for the surfacing again (the idea is not a new one) of a British bill of rights in place of the Human Rights Act, I have not yet seen it explained how it would apply, given that even without the Act we would stlll be party to the Human Rights Convention. Just as in the years prior to the 1998 Act coming in, individuals would still be able to take cases to the European Court of Human Rights even if unable to enforce it directly in our domestic courts. So would we simply be left with an unhappy compromise by leaving the rights in place but making their enforcement more difficult?
It is often conveniently forgotten by its critics that the British had a major role in the drafting of the European Convention, and arguably to the extent that our governments have fallen foul of it we can be accused of not practising what we preached. The suggestion that European judges have applied the Convention to purposes for which it was not intended is not an attractive one: how can basic rights be limited so as to apply only in certain areas of law?
If a rights culture was truly prevalent in this country, there would be a lot less injustice and inequality than we see around us. Surely that is where any reformer's attention should be directed?