Here we go again. The European Court of Human Rights has given a ruling with which the UK Government (or at least the Conservative part of it) disagrees, and the only answer, it appears to follow in these politicians' minds, is withdrawal from the European Convention.
So they would have it that the Government is never wrong on human rights matters? That once Parliament has spoken, there should be no possibility of challenge, even if it turns out that someone's basic rights are sidelined as a consequence? What is the point of the Convention – British inspired as it was – if not to provide some check on excess of parliamentary zeal or political ideology?
How can the country hope to retain any moral authority in the international community if it no longer wishes to accept the same norms of behaviour? I really despair at the myopic, populist attitude that we know best and everyone else is wrong. We need the Convention all the more if this is the mindset of our leaders.
As for the particular issue behind the latest row – the "whole life" tariff in England & Wales, not subject to review (something that neither Scotland nor Northern Ireland has felt it necessary to adopt) – what is the problem with making the small adjustment to the law needed to satisfy the Strasbourg judges? It would appear that a review of a prisoner's case after 25 years, which the court regarded as the international standard, and at intervals thereafter, would be sufficient. With only 49 prisoners subject to this tariff, that is not going to overburden the system.
Nor would it prevent a judge telling an offender that they will spend the rest of their life behind bars, as Justice Secretary Chris Grayling seems to think – just that we are not to completely rule out the possibility that that might one day be considered no longer appropriate. Are we going to deny our humanity even to that extent?
The sentiment is most clearly expressed in the concurring opinion of Judge Power-Forde: "Those who commit the most abhorrent and egregious of acts and who inflict untold suffering upon others, nevertheless retain their fundamental humanity and carry within themselves the capacity to change. Long and deserved though their prison sentences may be, they retain the right to hope that, some day, they may have atoned for the wrongs which they have committed. They ought not to be deprived entirely of such hope. To deny them the experience of hope would be to deny a fundamental aspect of their humanity and, to do that, would be degrading."
And, pace David Blunkett, even a democratic Parliament must be subject to some constrants, otherwise no minority would be protected from oppression – another key point that was recognised in the founding of the Convention.
We cannot pick and choose which rights to recognise if we wish the respect of our international neighbours. It is possible to achieve most things under the Convention. We just have to go about it the right way. If we do that, we have both the political and the moral authority. Why would we wish to give up either?
Now is the time to stand up for the Human Rights Convention.