John Larkin versus the Human Rights’ Industry: Round 2

John Larkin, N.Ireland’s attorney general (and senior legal advisor to the Stormont Executive) has fired a well-aimed Exocet at the local Human Rights’ industry in Friday’s News Letter:

“I very much and profoundly see myself as a human rights lawyer. Now one can ask: What is meant by that?

“But what I’m very concerned about is two things. One is the trivialisation of human rights; the other is the idolisation of human rights and both are great dangers.”

He says that some people want to “turn that which one wishes into ‘a right’”. He gives an example which he gave at a conference organised by the Human Rights Commission last year.

For example, where people who wear pyjamas during the day and when asked to desist, reply: “This is part of our culture; this is our right”, he says: “I suggest that this is not an area where rights enter into it at all and I think that actually it debases what can be still quite a useful language of rights to refer to issues such as the wearing of pyjamas as a matter in which rights attach.”

Mr Larkin says that he is equally concerned about the “idolification” of rights “which we must unquestionably worship”.

His core argument “that law is not the ultimate answer to every human problem” surely removes a large part of the foundation upon which the ill-fated Bill of Rights and our thriving (and prosperous) Human Rights’ Industry has been based?

And as alluded to in his  “It is my human right to wear my jim-jams where and when I like” example, Larkin does have form in speaking truth to unaccountable and irresponsible wannabe power  He, in the words of Monica McWilliams, “set the cat amongst the pigeons” at last year’s NIHRC conference by not following the script laid down by the local HR Oligarchy; speaker after speaker from Ulster and beyond subsequently laid aside their own prepared speeches and  launched fierce attacks on Mr Larkin.

Interestingly enough Prof  McWilliams, when introducing him at that particular soiree, reminded the audience that he had given them legal advice on what interpretation should be put on the remit in the Belfast Agreement when sorting out a workable advice for the NIO on a bill of rights.

The fact that they had not followed that advice (and that the NIO correspondingly had ignored the NIHRC’s) was, understandably, left unspoken.

  • Is “Round 1” (i.e. John Larkin’s speech to the NIHRC conference) online anywhere?

  • Nunoftheabove

    Having skim-read the whole speech – some of which is interesting (the Italian classroom case, particularly) – I actually don’t get his pyjamas analogy. Of course there is no nor would be any defined right to wear pyjamas outdoors per se. One isn’t – or shouldn’t be – necessary. Surely it’s sufficient that to wear pyjamas cannot be successfully opposed legally or constitutionally in a normal society to the extent that the wearing of them doesn’t infringe anyone else’s individual rights. Equally, AN Other must not claim or be able to successfully claim any right to be offended by the sight of anyone wearing pyjamas or have any such right to be offended by the wearing of pyjamas legislated for. The claim that the wearing of the pyjamas is consistent with or in opposition to a culture of wearing/never wearing pyjamas as a cultural norm or value doesn’t come into it. Or wouldn’t if an individual rights platform of any merit was introduced. To that extent, culture’s irrelevant and is perhaps just an indirect way of trying to assert group rights at the expense of individual rights. Now that is – or would be – dangerous. Simply to say that the wearing of the pyjamas should not be a matter subject to legal intervention and should rather simply “be left for regulation simply to social courtesy and social decency” though seems to be to represent a cop-out from the requirement to have robust individual rights enshrined in a sensible fashion.

    …or have I just not had enough coffee yet ? 🙁

  • “Simply to say that the wearing of the pyjamas should not be a matter subject to legal intervention and should rather simply “be left for regulation simply to social courtesy and social decency” though seems to be to represent a cop-out from the requirement to have robust individual rights enshrined in a sensible fashion.”

    How can we define “sensible” objectively?

    My interpretation of his pyjama example was that a subsequent winning claim by a previous outdoor wearer, based on the denial of their human rights would not, in his opinion be “sensible” and would, indirectly, then trivialise those human rights, which are enshrined in legislation.

    But, again, it comes down to what I guess his (and our) definition of “sensible” would be.

  • Nunoftheabove

    oneill

    Of course; legislating for individual rights rather than group rights, clear separation between church and state, substantial freedom of expression etc might be decent foundations of sensibleness. They would for me, anyway. Beginning with any premise which is designed to ‘protect’ the easily (normally habitually) offendable and/or which looks to group rights rather than individual rights etc, is a false beginning and would serve to takes us deeper into the mess that this society’s already in. With basic but robust and very plainly stated and fiercely defended rights in place, a society’s also better positoned to enable some of the more important aspects of its citizenship’s obligations with a little more authority too, one healthy ethical cornerstone being the principle of personal responsibility for one’s own actions based on strong freedoms on one’s choice of actions, beliefs and opinions.