An article in The Mail on Sunday, on 3 March 2013, celebrated the British Home Secretary’s proposal for Britain “to pull out of the discredited European Convention on Human Rights that has allowed dangerous criminals and hate preachers to remain in the UK “. The newspaper suggested that Theresa May’s proposed move “would mean foreign courts could no longer meddle in British justice”. This is arguably not in the best interests of the British people.
The article brings into question the whole scope of Europe’s role in the subsidiarity of legal power (5.3.5). It mentions “such hugely controversial decisions as banning the deportation of radical cleric Abu Qatada and giving British prisoners the right to vote”. This raises three separate questions: how to reduce the impact of “hate preachers”, whether “foreign criminals” should have any civil rights, and to what extent any person forfeits their rights by committing a crime. The newspaper ignores the reasons for establishing the European Convention on Human Rights.
As reported by the BBC, Abu Qatada “faces a retrial in Jordan for allegedly conspiring to cause explosions on Western and Israeli targets in 1998 and 1999” but has “never been prosecuted in the UK” because the “director of public prosecutions ….had never been shown any evidence to support a criminal prosecution”. If British law has a problem in protecting the population from damage inflicted by “hate preachers” that is a purely domestic matter which needs to be addressed as part of preventing ethnic conflict (5.4.6); the fact that Abu Qatada is not a British citizen should be irrelevant in this context. It would have been convenient for British politicians to dodge the issue, by deporting a single “hate preacher”, but that would not have resolved the problem of British citizens who preach hate.
There is a question relating to the civil rights of denizens – people who live in a country but who do not have citizenship. They are human beings, so they should have the same basic human rights as anybody else, as defined in the European Convention on Human Rights; that is the prime concern of the European Court of Human Rights. The extent of economic or political rights for denizens is a different question (6.7.3).
The question of whether prisoners should be allowed to vote is related to the objectives of the penal system (5.2.7). If rehabilitation is intended, prisoners will return to society at the end of their sentences. It is surely counter-productive to make them feel that they can never play a constructive part in society; voting is one of the most basic mechanisms by which an individual participates in politics (6.6.1).
Theresa May’s proposal should be judged on whether it would it be better for the population if Britain were to completely withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. British people have become complacent about their rights, yet this is unwise (5.4.7). European intervention prevented the loss of the ancient rights which prevent arrest without charge and indefinite detention without trial. The convention was designed for this very purpose – to prevent national politicians from seizing powers which can be abused.
If her proposal were designed solely to gain support for the Conservative party in a struggle against UKIP, without due consideration of what is best for the British people, she should reflect on the possibility that many voters would give such a party neither their respect nor their votes.