My old pupil master, Ian Lewis, helpfully reminded me the other day that the deadline for the Human Rights Commission is approaching: 11 November 2011. With Remembrance Day and International Corduroy Day, 11/11/11 is going to be busy.
The discussion paper for the Commission can be found here.
The cat flap aside, the Tories seem unusually serious about reforming current understanding of human rights laws. Unlike some of his less legally astute colleagues Dominic Grieve seems aware this cannot be achieved through a new domestic bill of rights that would be subsidiary to the European Convention on Human Rights, nor through misconceived interventions in Strasbourg to try and convince human rights judges that the Article 3 prohibition on torture is not an absolute one (that was an embarrassing waste of taxpayers money if ever there was one). These efforts were nothing more than political window dressing. The more serious way forward is through the margin of appreciation.
Grieve took himself off to Strasbourg to argue that signatory states to the European Convention on Human Rights should be allowed flexibility in the way that they apply and interpret the universal principles of the Convention. This revives a doctrine that has arguably never really fallen into abeyance and there is perhaps scope to carve out a UK-specific understanding of some aspects of some rights. Whether that would be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing is of course questionable. UK judges have recently themselves pointed out that the Human Rights Act merely require them to have regard to Strasbourg jurisprudence, not necessarily slavishly follow it.
There are therefore serious issues at stake, and it is worth making your views known. More mature responses than that of the Home Secretary at the Tory conference might be sensible…