NI and Scottish Rights bodies challenge the Conservatives

With the consultation period just ended on the NIO’s response to the draft NI Bill of Rights, the NI and Scottish Human Rights Commissions jointly challenge the big UK parties especially the Conservatives, over their plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights.
Monica McWilliams says:

Nowhere in the world has the repeal of existing human rights protections been a starting point for discussing a proposed Bill of Rights. It must not be the starting point for a debate in the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland and Scottish Commissions are agreed that progressively building upon the foundation provided by the Human Rights Act is the only acceptable basis upon which to have a debate.”

This reads like a frontal challenge to the man who would eventually bring forward the Conservatives’ Bill, Dominic Grieve who hasn’t spelled out how he’d replace the HRA. Meanwhile both the DUP and Daphne Trimble reject the NI Commission’s Bill on familiar grounds. But Lady Trimble, now Conservative and Unionist challenger in Lagan Valley can’t resist making a party point.

The DUP will never be in a position to replace Labour’s Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights because the DUP will never form or be part of the UK Government.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Harry J

    The DUP will never be in a position to replace Labour’s Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights because the DUP will never form or be part of the UK Government….

    and whos to say the conservatives will either dear.

    Tell you what daphne just go cook up another tory Anglo Irish Agreement, or get one of camerons Cast Iron Guarantees. Seems like her word is as worthless as her husbands

  • Bob Wilson

    Think the Conservatives have a reasoanble chance of forming or being part of a UK Govt.
    The anti British Ulster nationalist DUP will NEVER to in a UK Govt

  • Harry J

    Think the Conservatives have a reasoanble chance of forming or being part of a UK Govt

    when? and who can believe a word they say. Any more cast iron guarantees for us bob?

  • Garza

    Harry who could believe a word the DUP say for that matter?

  • What I find painfully ironic there is the way Dominic Grieve gets to carry the crock.

    Grieve succeeded David Davis as shadow Home Secretary, a post from which Cameron defenestrated him just six months later. That was because he was seen as too liberal, too open to persuasion, for the Tory hard men to stomach.

  • unionistvoter

    Maybe the right to buy land for a £5 should be protected

    What do you think Harry J

  • GFASupporterButRealist

    So the Scottish H R Commission has joined with Monica McWilliams and her non-representative majority on the NI Human Rights Commission. Well, surprise, surprise. They would, wouldn’t they ? The Scottish body wants to push the envelop almost(?) as much as the NI one, eh ? One wonders if Atlantic Philanthropy Irish-American billionaire Chuck Feeney has put any of his millions into Scottish sporrans ? Probably not. But worth checking out…..
    As for this “nowhere in the world” claim, talk about hyperbole! Nowhere in the world (?) except NI are there more quangos than……well…. elected politicians, one suspects.
    And here’s a question which might have an illuminating answer. Why did the English/Welsh
    “Equality and Human Rights Commission,” not join with Monica in this endeavour ? Doesn’t sound like the EHRC were too persuaded, eh ? They obviously sat this one out. Very canny, if so.
    Sounds like the proposed UK Bill of Rights pretty much fits the bill of any sensible person.
    Despite the millions to support Monica’s specious arguments (including there having to be an actual NI Bill of Rights, as opposed to the NIHRC being asked to “advise” only on this, as stated in the Good Friday Agreement, please note) flowing from Feeney’s foreign foundation whose NI programmes are led by the former head of the anti-state Committee for the Administration of Justice, this campaign is dead but she and CAJ et al just keep trying to give it the kiss of life. Their patient is like the Dead Parrot of Monty Python fame! Let’s move on for heaven’s sake. And no, I’m not from the Conservative or Unionist stable. Just the rational one which recognises the need to protect BASIC rights — but also to emphasise RESPONSIBILITIES. Get a life.

  • Cynic2


    ” Nowhere in the world has the repeal of existing human rights protections been a starting point for discussing a proposed Bill of Rights.”

    That’s a matter for us voters. We elect Parliament and a Government to take those decisions, despite your attempts to undermine elective democracy and replace it by judicial rule.

    And when the Conservatives are elected and it happens, I hope that as a good public servant you will give your advice to Ministers, fairly, openly, impartiality and without the influence of any foreign interests funding your organisation.

    If that advice is ignored then it’s surely a simple matter of conscience for you.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Monica and her pet commission is totally discredited and in the pocket of a foreign individual with questionable motives, it is time they should go.

  • Cynic2

    “maybe the right to buy land for a £5 should be protected”

    …. its far worse than that. I think that Peter and Iris should be consulting Monica.

    * there has been a serious attack on their right to private life by people cruelly challenging the probity of screwing so much (quite legitimately) from expenses across so many jobs

    * there has been a serious breach of their right to family life in terms of their right to employ almost their entire family on the back of public money. As Peter so eloquently put it (and I paraphrase but only a bit) “Who is the BBC to question me”. Indeed, and we little people should know our place.

    * there has been an interference to the right to enjoy one’s own property and indeed the property handed to one by Mr Fraser for a very nominal sum. Again, whose business is it if he takes a sliver of land that opens up a whole development scheme and sells it to a developer. It’s between him God the the ECHR

    * finally, there has been a serious breach of privacy in respect of Iris’s right to cuckold her husband with anyone she wishes and do charitable work helping a young man get his business going without snide and unhelpful questions about any £5k commissions. Indeed, the Bible is full of precedent for older women taking a lead and for people begetting time and time and time again. It is almost a religious duty and its not as if they were the same sex or anything so abominable as that.

    So will Monica and her band of saviours intervene?

  • LabourNIman

    is there anyone in the world that actually stays awake when Monica McWilliams communicates?

  • While the above contributions are entertaining, let’s not lose sight of the original premise: disguise it how they like, the Tories want to inhibit guaranteed personal liberties.

    If that isn’t an electoral issue, what is?

    Of course, I expect any moment the “whataboutery” response (ID cards, 42 days detention, whatever). That other parties have been equally complicit should not excuse the Tories.

    And for why?

    * Not, necessarily, because of any flaws in the Human Rights Act of 1998;
    * nor that it is a “socialist” measure (if anything, it is exemplary liberalism with a small “l”),
    * but because of Tory europhobia, and Cameron’s constant need to defer to the Little Englander UKIP fellow-travellers in his own party.

    For the record, my “human rights” under the HRA 1998 presently are:

    * my right to life;
    * freedom from torture and degrading treatment;
    * freedom from slavery and forced labour;
    * my right to liberty;
    * my right to a fair trial;
    * my right that retrospective legislation does not punish me;
    * my right that my private and family life be respected;
    * my freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom to express my beliefs;
    * my freedom of expression;
    * my freedom of assembly and association;
    * my right to marry and to start a family;
    * my right not to be discriminated against in respect of these rights and freedoms;
    * my right to peaceful enjoyment of my property (currently being loudly invoked by a certain First Minister);
    * my right to an education;
    * my right to be enfranchised in free elections;
    * my right not to be threatened by the death penalty.

    It falls on Mr Grieve and his fellow Tories to clarify which of those rights are so alien, so “unBritish” they need to be constrained by a declaration of “British” rights.

  • GFASupporterButRealist

    Mr. Redfellow, you know, you don’t have to be a Tory to see this campaign by NIHRC and CAJ et al as a politically correct nonsense list for unelected quangoites. How about a really important right ? i.e. a woman’s-right-to-choose to end a pregnancy if she so wishes ? This is denied to hundreds of NI women every year. Maybe thousands ? Monica McWilliams and the Women’s (I stress “Women’s”) Coalition fudged that one all right in the first Assembly. Why is the NIHRC not pushing THAT major right ? Over to you.

  • GFASupporterButRealist @ 01:59 PM:

    The short answer is to refer to the Rights and Riteousness document, available on line, which describes the recent state of play in NI. As for reproductive rights in the NIHR-remit, that is hardly a matter for the Westminster government. After all, it’s not as if there hasn’t been a degree of arm-twisting in the recent months. If Dominic Grieve, or anybody else, feels capable of devising and imposing a formula acceptable to all across the UK, good luck to him.

    Beyond that, the HRA is a declaration of principles. It is open to anybody, singly or as a class action, to approach their Noble Lordships the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom for interpretations on the application of the HRA. And, yes, the Supreme Court does have explicit jurisdiction in Northern Ireland.

    Moreover, their Noble Lordships, now apotheosized as the Supreme Court Bench, have consistently been more humane, more compassionate, more small-l liberal than politicians or the Daily Mail.

    Which raises the next issue.

    A “British/UK” (delete as appropriate) bill of rights must be an expansion or amplification of the European Convention and its five protocols, else the UK is not just out of the EU (which those rabid europhobic Tories would welcome) but also out of the UN (which might cause a pause for thought).

    So, the Tory pledge is to spend many, many hours of parliamentary time scattering as many uses as possible of “Britishness” (see above) with no substantive impact on existing legislation than to paint it red-white-and-blue. Then it will be required that the Supreme Court Bench interpret the legislation consistently less humanely, less compassionately, more illiberally — else politicians and the Daily Mail will be severely disappointed.

  • Malcolm,

    With respect, I think you’ve avoided the question:

    “As for reproductive rights in the NIHR-remit, that is hardly a matter for the Westminster government.”

    The NIHRC’s proposed BOR was a work that consisted almost every right or supposed right known to man…whether or not there it was within the original remit of what was proposed for such a BOR in the Belfast Agreement.

    Why then has the NIHRC run away them from including the very real and tangible missing right in present-day Northern Ireland, women’s reproductive rights? Political reasons?

  • oneill @ 04:42 PM:

    Why then has the NIHRC run away them from including the very real and tangible missing right in present-day Northern Ireland, women’s reproductive rights? Political reasons?

    I’m straining for anything occupying as exposed a political position as NIHRC (well, apart from the Policing Board, obviously). Therefore to imply “political reasons”, especially in a perfervid election period, seems a no-brainer.

    That should not be the disqualifier some might suggest. If it was Baden-Powell who came up with “softly, softly, catchee monkey”, I’m prepared to DYB, DYB, DYB with the optimists.

    [My Virginmedia broadband is doing the whore’s drawers thing. Any silence from this end should not be construed otherwise.]

  • December 2008 was when the NIHRC presented its advice to the Government on the possible content of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland…sans women’s reproductive rights. No election pending at that time, so what was the excuse?

    My point is that the NIHRC (and its main foreign financier) have strived to push a political agenda as opposed to a genuine human rights one. The Belfast Agreement specified quite clearly their remit was to concentrate on those areas “particular” to Northern Ireland’s circumstances. To then wade into and focus almost entirely on socio-economic “rights” was a de facto political one, an attempt to move, in one part of the United Kingdom, the power over social and economic policy from elected representatives to an unelected judiciary.

  • Framer

    Malcolm – the ECHR belongs to the Council of Europe (47 state members) not the EU and whatever form the UK Bill takes it will remain open for individuals to try an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

  • Framer @ 06:25 PM:

    But the status of the ECHR, and therefore the UK’s position in the Council of Europe, and therefore in the EU, is precisely the stated question raised by the europhobic Tories. The issue (or, as some see it, the opportunity, was pungently put by Fraser Nelson, near two years back [my emphasis]:

    This ludicrous situation cannot be overturned by a Bill of Rights, unless the Bill of Rights is explicitly made senior to the ECHR. And being an ECHR signatory is a condition to being on the Council of Europe.

    And a word of warning to Tory supporters. The Shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, is a big fan of the ECHR and used his maiden speech to advertise that he disagreed with his fellow MPs “but it is a variance I have held for some time.” He’s a believer – so don’t expect him to be the one that pulls us out of this mess.

    Or, here’s another good one:

    [Then] Shadow Justice Secretary Nick Herbert said the controversial act, brought in by Labour, has had the opposite effect of its intentions by devaluing human rights and led to “distorted prioirities”. [sic]

    He said the result has been to devalue the very language of rights by associating serious violations and abuses with “trivial complaints in our own country”.

    Critics of the act have said it has led to the rights of prisoners, terrorists and extremists being considered over those of their victims and the Home Secretary admitted last week how it has hampered attempts to remove some fanatics and terror suspects from the country.

    The Tories have vowed to replace the act with a British Bill of Rights.

    When the DPP, no less, went on the record to defend the HRA, the Tory respose was to assert:

    We should tear up the Human Rights Act and replace it with something that protects law abiding citizens from violent criminals. And we should tear up his [the DPP’s] contract as well.

    Do I need to spell it out (and this applies equally to oneill @ 05:23 PM, for it transcends reproductive rights)?

    There is a concerted attempt by the Right to constrain HR. The Daily Mail will accept no less. The Murdoch Press see “our” civil rights as an infringement of “their” property rights. And they are calling the shots:

    * All those “illegal asylum seekers” (paradoxes in themselves) are the latest bugaboo: they must be “dealt” with.
    * Even, in certain gynophobic “turnip Taliban” quarters, those uppity women who are getting above themselves (controlling their own fertility, no less).
    * Not to mention bar-room comments such as “I’ve nothing against sex, but I don’t want it shoved down my throat”.
    * Or the inevitable next scare about the latest synthetic drug of choice (there’ll always be another one coming down the yellow-brick road).

    As always, in straitened times, there needs to be a clearly-identified element to lob half-bricks at, either alien or the (even worse) “enemy within”. Hence the demands for a return to the good old days of 1980s Tory supremacy:

    * internal exile within the UK;
    * Check-point Charlie on the A1;
    * at Orgreave a miner struck to the ground, kicked, and then charged with “damage to a policeman’s boot”.

    Notice there I avoided use of the term “Thatcherite”: even Thatcher (who was, after all, a lawyer) could approvingly cite Lord Denning’s use of Sir Thomas Fuller’s axiom:

    Be you never so high, the law is above you.

    Our Posh Tory Boys (yes: I’ve ordered my t-shirt) see that as wimpishness:

    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all … Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’

    Cameron, replete on the cult of personality on which he feeds, presents himself as the master soon, if not now. He will recast the law, and our rights, in his own image:

    Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
    Like a Colossus, and we petty men
    Walk under his huge legs and peep about
    To find ourselves dishonourable graves.

    Not surprisingly liberal pressure-groups and those about-to-be-culled quangos (i.e. properly established legal and representative entities) are generally lying low. Which is why the NI and Scottish HRCs (the topic of this thread) deserve support.

  • Framer

    Malcolm – you are just shouting now with a mishmash of 1980s right-on silliness.

    The Council of Europe is entirely separate from the EU.

    And is that the same DPP who could find no evidence justifying prosecution of Baroness Uddin for her crooked expenses claim?

    Anyway “properly established legal and representative entities” can just as properly be legally done away with if proven useless or operating ultra vires off foreign money.

  • Malcolm

    “Which is why the NI and Scottish HRCs (the topic of this thread) deserve support.”

    You’re attempting to bluster yourself out of the hole you’ve dug yourself here…should the NIHRC have identified female reproductive rights as a human rights issue particular to Northern Ireland?
    Simple closed question, “yes” or “no”?

    If they haven’t, then why not?
    Don’t blame “the Posh Tory Boys” for the answer.

  • GFASupporterButRealist

    Re. 21’s question, this is mine also.
    What is your answer, Malcolm ? This is surely a truly important human right which, as I said earlier, was disgracefully and shamefully fudged in the NI Assembly way back by the leader of the WOMEN’S (my emphasis) Coalition. Why the silence from Ms. McWilliams (and CAJ at co, and their US sugar Daddy, billionaire Chuck Feeney)?
    Do YOU, Malcolm, favour a Northern Ireland woman’s right-to-choose ?

  • neill @ 09:12 PM & GFASupporterButRealist @ 09:21 PM:

    Untwist the knickers, lads.

    Separate the scrotum as well as the ad-hominem and ad-rem.

    The question you are really asking, as some purity test, is whether or not I personally believe in reproductive rights. As is clear from every time I have addressed that point, here or elsewhere, the answer is … wait for it … hold tight, here it comes … are you sure, really, really sure you can cope with this? … yes.

    My reasoning? Once I accept in its totally the judgement of the US Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut [381 U.S. 479 (1965)], and in particular the judgement delivered by Justice William O. Douglas (one of the shining examples of ’60s liberalism) then those “penumbras” of personal rights become compelling. For the record, that is a case far more fundamental than Roe v. Wade, for Douglas roots the personal-freedom issue firmly in the whole Western liberal (albeit sectarian) tradition. Note that, to undermine Roe, it is necessary to dismantle Griswold.

    Now, whether those reproductive rights should be explicit (or, as I would see it, are implicit) as a HR-matter, and incorporated in a Bill of Rights, that is a different issue, one open to debate in the local jurisdiction.

    No, nor I am not up to some specious distinction between the ECHR and the Council of Europe. That is comparing fish and fowl. Council of Europe members are signatories of the ECHR. The Council of Europe has a Commissioner whose mandate is to promote HR matters throughout the Council’s member countries. The ECHR has legally binding powers in its subscribing nations. However, the UK could not be a EU member without subscribing to the Convention.

    Beyond all that, what’s the beef? Do you want me to second-guess the strategies and intents of some individual? Sorry: can’t do. If you’re obsessing about local character-assassination, that’s your problem, not mine: see a psychiatrist.

  • In the above read “secular” for “sectarian”. Some Freudian twitch in matter Northern Irish, I’m afraid.

  • GFASupporterButRealist

    23: Malcolm writes: “Do you want me to second-guess the strategies and intents of some individual?”
    No, Malcolm, I (and maybe “we”) don’t. Firstly, the chairperson of the NIHRC is not an individual; she is a public figure. She was an elected party leader and Assembly Member until she was rejected at the ballot box last time around. She is paid from the public purse to be the chairperson of NIHRC. Again, she is a PUBLIC figure and therefore must be accountable for her actions. One of the most fundamental “human rights” in my book, to repeat, is a woman’s-right-to-choose, and this does NOT apply in Northern Ireland, and NI women are discriminated against compared to Scotland, Wales and England in this regard. That’s one hell of a lack of a right for women in NI. NIHRC’s head has avoided this question as any kind of priority, just as her party chose to fudge the matter in the first Assembly of the Good Friday Agreement. It is absolutely legitimate to ask why millions of pounds have been spent on other “human rights” issues by the foreign Atlantic Philanthropies, some of whose money was sought and accepted by the NIHRC for its campaign. It is great to hear that you too support this fundamental human right which especially affects poorer women in NI. Don’t you think this should have been a legitimate priority for the NIHRC ? That is what I, and it seems others on this thread, are arguing. Back to you. And yes, I am fully up to date on Roe v Wade and Griswold etc. But we are in UK/NI not the USA. Abortion is available in Great Britain but not in Northern Ireland. It is a disgrace in “human rights” terms.

  • GFASupporterButRealist @ 02:07 AM:

    02:07 AM and Slugger doesn’t adjust for BST! And they say rust never sleeps.

    As I suspected, the question was a shibboleth. That, too, is fair enough. Then comes the self-contradiction:

    the chairperson of the NIHRC is not an individual; she is a public figure.

    Quite correct, thus far. Note that: “chairperson” (more correctly, Chief Commissioner) of a Commission of (currently, but not necessarily) eight. There is therefore a distinction between Professor McWilliams’ utterances (which are well on record) and what a Chief Commissioner can voice as the collective view of the Commission. Yet, GFASupporterButRealist conflates the two for an ad-feminam and partisan point. Sad, really.

    Then comes this:

    I am fully up to date on Roe v Wade and Griswold etc. But we are in UK/NI not the USA.

    I’m not sure what being “up to date” on judgements delivered back in 1965 and 1973 requires, but let that pass. More significant is that their Noble Lordships, now translated across Parliament Square as the UK Supreme Court, happily accept US Supreme Court judgements as “persuasive but not binding”, being part of the common-law tradition. And, for the record, it’s a two-way street.

  • GFASupporterButRealist

    Oh well, no answers supplied to the questions I posed. No ad feminam slur was used by me. It wd be odd for me to do that given that I feel so strongly about NI women’s right to choose! And “partisan” ? Well I suppose I wd vote Alliance normally. Didn’t say so, tho. As for Ms McWms speaking for the NIHRC in the “collective.” No, more like her own internal majority. Lady Trimble wasn’t allowed to issue a significant dissent in any real sense, e.g. Also, I said I was up to date on the High Court. I am. Maybe even learned some of this way back at a certain Ivy League university…..’65 and ’73 count as current precedents at the court on Capitol Hill. Sigh…..