Human Rights minefield

The Labour government and Westminster as a whole can hardly be blamed for ducking legislation on an NI Bill of Rights. Local divisions and lack of urgency made that inevitable. But it could prove a hot potato for the Conservatives if elected. Sam McBride in the Newsletter rather glided over the differences between a freestanding NI Bill and an NI section in a British Bill to replace the present Human Rights Act as announced by shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve. Grieve may have moved too hastily. An NI component in a British bill could prove to be a Trojan horse to block a British Bill, exposing it to constiutional and legal challenge. The Justice group argues that constitutionally, the devolved areas will have to be satisfied before any British Bill is enacted. Human Rights lawyers would argue that a Bill is unlikely to be based on a unilateral British government decision, probably legally and certainly politically, even for the Conservatives, “ the party of the Union”. For NI, the GFA is intrinsically involved. These are uncharted waters and the arguments are by no means all one way. Peter Weir MLA puts the anti- case cogently if trenchantly. The supporters of an NI Bill will have to take heed of it, just as Mr Weir etc will have to pay due regard of the Justice arguments. The obvious answer is a separate NI Bill limited to NI’s particular circumstances, wholly compatible with the Human Rights Act or a new British Bill – some time after 2014.

Peter Weir

Representatives of the SDLP and Sinn Fein who have preached to us for many years the need for inclusiveness and the inadequacy of majoritarianism, seem perfectly happy on this issue to try to impose proposals over the heads of
unionists in a bizarre minority rule scenario.

By including a full buffet of issues that have not unique or peculiar to Northern Ireland, they drive a coach and horses throughout the definition of the remit of “particular circumstances of Northern Ireland”.

It is no wonder nationalist politicians are so keen to embrace this erroneous interpretation as it helps to distance our laws and policies from the rest of the UK and becomes in effect a badge of difference.

Finally, the effect of these proposals would be to ringfence certain rights and government activities, thus placing crucial democratic decisions in the hands of elected judges rather than the wishes of the people.

  • Alan

    Well, we have to have a Bill of Rights as part of the GFA – that goes without question. Cameron, should he start to improve his performance in the key marginals, will have to provide.

    The question for NI, has always been what form should the Bill take. The UUP and DUP want to restrict it to a couple of clauses on the aftermath of the troubles. SF and SDLP want a more comprehensive bill that can drive a progressive agenda on social and economic rights.

    Forget the Human Rights lobby, it’s the Assembly that have to make the compromise, The DUP / UUP need to come to an agreement with SF and the SDLP ( and others ) on this.

    There has, however, been little if any engagement in order to approach a compromise between the parties, and I have to say that the UUP and DUP singularly failed to offer compromise in the Bill of Rights Forum, when they tried to strangle what was essentially a talking shop with a unionist procedural veto.

    There has been a rather facile arguement ( headed up by the unspeakably absurd NIO ) that existing legislation offers human rights protections – they do not, they are amendable without the protection of a Bill of Rights. The BOR completes the circle of protection.

    We can relatively easily produce a Bill that consolidates rights, and includes NI specific additions. We can also, for instance, offer additional protection to workers threatened by a global down turn.

    But that isn’t really the point. Where the focus has been on the Bill tying the hands of future governments and threatening the public finances, there is the opportunity to define rights which are aspirational and rights which are absolute. It may even be possible to agree a process whereby, in the future, the Assembly may extend justiciable rights as it sees fit.

    Perhaps this is where the compromise can begin, but where is the driver to deliver the initial engagement.

  • granni trixie

    Brian:you know hat I’m going to write,dont you. 1 response since this morning?

    Who needs a poll to show lack of interest in BOR,despite large amounts of funding to stimulate interest? (and I say this as a BOR supporter).

  • Alias

    Peter Weir is right to see the BoR as a self-serving agenda by ‘nationalists’ even if that would seem a nonsensical due to the ‘local universality’ of the proposed rights.

    It isn’t a nationalist agenda, however, but the agenda of a non-sovereign nation that seeks some constitutional assurances that the State will not promote the interests of the sovereign nation that has legal title to it (i.e. the Sovereign British nation) at the direct expense of the nation which has renounced its former claim to ownership. Nationalists would not, by definition, have formally declared that they have no right to a nation-state or to national self-determination.

    I note that he claims that the agenda is to distance NI’s legal system from that of the UK. That is different from the familiar claim that they (the non-nationalist, non-sovereign nation) intend to harmonise NI’s legal system with Ireland’s legal system. I suspect he modified that claim because it would be ridiculous to make such a claim about a BoR when it imperious to such ulterior shenanigans, being beyond the reach of the local hacks.

    So the BoR of rights will, in fact, make such harmonisation impossible rather than progress it. Likewise, once these rights (whatever they are) are granted, it is unlikely that those who will then become dependent on their socio-economic aspects will ever vote to give them up. Since nobody in Ireland will have voted for these rights, nobody in Ireland will ever agree to keep them and ergo keep on paying for them.

    Will a little more imaginative thinking, Peter Weir might find that a BoR is very much a unionist agenda – or, rather, could be.

  • Alias

    And one other point: NI is already a separate legal jurisdiction within the UK:

    “…Northern Ireland, like Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, constitutes a separate legal jurisdiction with its own judicial and social outlook.” – [former] Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Lord Lowry

  • Brian Walker

    Gran, Heresy I know but Slugger comment isn’t an infallible guide to importance. You’ll have noticed the long finger anyway.

  • Alias

    “I suspect he modified that claim because it would be ridiculous to make such a claim about a BoR when it imper[b]v[/b]ious to such ulterior shenanigans, being beyond the reach of the local hacks.”

    Apart from the typo correction, just to clarify that constitutional law cannot be modified by local politicians, so it removes the risk that those areas of economic and political policy or law that are transferred to the BoR can ever be ‘harmonised’ with Irish policy or law by those local politicians. If unionists fear such an agenda, then they should support a BoR as a good means of preventing it.

  • Brian Walker

    Alias, Tudor State thinking, that stuff. Do catch up!