Saturday, February 12, 2011

Complaining About Human Rights Is a Bullshitter's Charter

Still on the subject of human rights, there are some damn stupid things being said about the Convention and its applications in the UK.  I've been reading this stuff long enough to know that 99% of coverage of ECHR is intentionally misleading, so let's clear up a few of the sillier assertions being made here.


Let's start with Laban's idea that the 22 MPs who voted against maintaining an arbitrary ban on prisoners voting are "traitors".

They prefer a foreign jurisdiction to the laws made by Parliament. quoth he. What do you call them? 

Readers, meet the man who imposed the tyrannical rule of the foreigns on Britain; history's greatest, most anti-British monster: Sir Winston Churchill, or "Judas" as we should perhaps call him for his traitorous ways.  That call of his for "a kind of United States of Europe" It makes voting for legislation on prisoners' rights look like child's play compared to Churchill's Hitleresque desire to enslave the British people. 

Related to this is the argument that British jurisdiction is being trampled over by the European Court, which happens to be partially true.  I suggest that this possibilty probably occurred to the officials in the Churchill government who drafted the legislation that created the thing.  Still, as I noted before, all the Court did was say that our current ban is non-compliant, then punt the decision on how to come into compliance over to Westminster.

Parliament could've put in place legislation confirming the ban, or established a hierarchy for voting.  It was our MPs who chose to spit the dummy and bleat about the foreigns rather than do something about what is a fairly simple and straightforward problem.

My brain hurts!

Another tactic is to complain that human rights are too complex for the man in the street to grasp, and that they amount to an elitist attempt to bamboozle the public.

Quick - define the minimum standards required to secure an appeal against a sentence in criminal law.  What's the purpose of judicial review?  Explain the Common Agricultural Policy through the medium of dance.  Who's in charge of your local health board?  No Googling!

Of course it's complex - of course the man in the street doesn't understand it.  The only time when your average citizen would bone up on the law is if he wanted to dodge a speeding ticket or something.  Rights are no more difficult to understand than 99% of criminal and civil law.

If someone's telling you that human rights are exceptionally complex and incomprehensible, they're most definitely Up To No Good. An iron rule of political discourse is that the Me humble caveman no understand fancy talk gambit is generally used to smuggle some form of horseshit under the public's nose.

Another one somebody raised with me was this - MPs shouldn't talk in terms of rights, because they're an abstract concept that allows them to make substance-free, bullshit assertions.  

To which I can only reply, alright then - let's also retire Fairness, Britishness and Hard-working families.   If we were to strip politics of substance free, bullshit assertions, there would be no such thing as politics.

There's no "human right" to a Ford Escort full of jam 

Indeed.  If you manage to convince the average Briton that human rights are a good thing in principle, you almost always get But it's gone too far now, there are new "rights" being invented all the time.

The mistake here is understandable, and it's down to the way that cases are presented to the public.  Firstly, the fact that some joker says they have a "right" to whatever, doesn't make it true.  If Peter Sutcliffe declares he has a right to a Ford Escort full of jam, he's going to be disappointed.

It's true that the concept of "rights" is vague and windy.  "Human rights", however, have a specific legal definition, decades of supporting case law and a concrete, practical function.

Further, the fact that somebody wins a case on issue (x) doesn't establish a "right".  Prisoners don't have a "right" to a toilet in their cells, for instance: the famed case which ended prisoners slopping out in Scotland established that, in the specific circumstances of one individual, slopping out breached the state's common law duty of care. This means it was against Scottish, not European law.  Note that this wasn't highlighted in coverage of the case at the time, which was much in the OMG Human Rights Scandal Forces Taxpayer To Personally Fellate Inmates vein.

The other objection is generally But where will it end?  Does a fetus have rights and so on.  Here's the deal - if you can't win a court case over it, it isn't a "right", and judges won't be slow to tell you so.

It's an affront to Common Sense 

There's a reason why we have a legal system, and that's because the words "Common Sense" are a synonym for "Utter bullshit that I strongly believe".  

Contrary to popular belief, the courts aren't filled with lunatics and retards.  If a case makes it to the Supreme Court, it's probably a lot thornier and more difficult to adjudicate than the press make it sound, and I would no more ask a randomly-picked punter to rule on it than I would let my brother perform brain surgery on my dog.

If you think I'm wrong here, I'd urge you to imagine yourself telling a judge that it's just like that because it is, and everyone thinks so.  Best of luck if you ever need to do that for real, by the way.

It's a criminal's charter 

You know the score here, so let's just say that yes, criminals are far more likely to raise cases than the general public.  While recent high profile cases have involved ordinary people arguing for euthanasia, the rights of soldiers or for public inquiries into various issues, it's most commonly accused persons who raise ECHR points.

The reasons for this aren't difficult to grasp.  Human rights governs interaction between citizens and the state, and nobody interacts with the state more than people who are in its custody.

Additionally, it should give critics pause to note the situations in which ECHR objections are raised, i.e. as a last resort.  The reason why, say, people who are being extradited to the United States invoke human rights is generally because there is no other form of protection against extradition to the United States.  Often, but not always, rights are the last form of defence against government balls-ups and bad law, which should endear them to everyone except those who entirely trust state bureaucracy to act nobly and judiciously at all times.

There, that should be enough for now.  If there's any arguments I've missed, feel free to point them out in comments.

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