Scrapping human rights law is an act of displaced fury

The Tory plan to break with the European court is all about blunting Ukip’s bayonets — channelling rage that should be aimed elsewhere

Jonathan Freedland

It’s the spelling mistake that gives the game away. Like a twist in a fine legal thriller, a single misplaced letter in the Conservatives’ newest policy document, announcing a plan to scrap the Human Rights Act, reveals the true nature of the exercise. It confirms that, for all the legal veneer, this is strictly politics — not law. More than that, it is the latest example of a kind of displaced fury fast becoming the defining motif of politics — in Britain and beyond.

So what was this telling error of spelling? The Tory paper — titled, in traditional Orwellian fashion, Protecting Human Rights in the UK (just as a blueprint for selling off the NHS would doubtless be called Keeping the Health Service Safe) — refers to legal “judgements”. The sharp-eyedbarrister and blogger Carl Gardner spotted the problem right away. “Lawyers tend to use the spelling ‘judgment’ for what’s given in court,” he wrote, “and ‘judgement’ for the personal quality many non-judges and not all judges have. The spelling used suggests no lawyer has been involved in drafting the document.”

That makes sense. Why hire a lawyer for what is obviously a political hit job? That much is borne out by the text, consisting of a series of promises that either address problems that don’t exist or propose changes that will change nothing.

So Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, promises that the replacement of “Labour’s Human Rights Act” by the Tories’ “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities … will ensure that Parliament is the ultimate source of legal authority”. That sounds worthwhile, ensuring our laws are made by those we elect rather than faceless judges in distant Strasbourg. Except there’s no need. Parliament is already the ultimate source of legal authority, and has been for three centuries.

If it were not, mere MPs would have no power to scrap the Human Rights Act, even if they wanted to. Those meddling foreign judges would stop them. But they can’t. It means the Grayling plan is that rarest of objects: a document whose very existence disproves its argument.

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