Blog Action Day: Making a stand for human rights

Posted by Sabina Frediani on 16 October 2013

In the UK the Human Rights Act protects everybody – old and young; rich and poor; you and me. Regrettably, some sections of the press don’t seem to like that very much. Worse still, they ignore important facts to mislead us and attack our proud human rights framework.

Such spin is perhaps predictable. Article 8 of the HRA and European Convention on Human Rights, after all, protects our right to a private and family life from prying eyes. But that doesn’t mean we should let misrepresentations go uncorrected. So today, on Blog Action Day – the theme of which this year is human rights – we again try to set the record straight.

Just earlier this month a major national newspaper ran with the front-page headline “Human right to make a killing”. The article claimed the European Court of Human Rights has awarded “taxpayer-funded payouts of £4.4million” to “some of Britain’s worst criminals” since 1998. But the reality is somewhat different.

First, it’s grossly inaccurate to suggest all claimants were criminals. Victims actually included the widow and son of a man murdered by a stalker, a 12-year-old boy assaulted by his stepfather, self-employed workers blacklisted for being Catholics and a disabled child and his mother, amongst others. Naturally, the story mentioned none of those cases.

It also described the number of cases “lost” by the UK since 1998 – 202 in total – as “staggering”. An odd choice of adjective given that the total number of cases brought against the UK in that same period was 13,515. So the cases “lost” actually represented an, ahem, “staggering” 1.5 per cent.

Finally, as the Court of Human Rights has pointed out, the figures quoted included legal costs as well as compensation. The article claimed that applicant Douglas Vinter was “awarded £34,500” – but he actually received no compensation whatsoever. Indeed compensation sums awarded by the Court are notoriously low.

As Attorney General Dominic Grieve said at our recent Conservative Fringe event, there will always be some court decisions that surprise or frustrate us from time to time. Given the Court of Human Rights' role is to offer ordinary people hope of justice and to hold nation states to account, it’s unlikely its judgments will be popular with governments. But surely we’d rather live in a human society of this kind, rather than one where victims have no ability to enforce their rights?

There’s nothing odd about human rights in this country. This is the land of Magna Carta; of the Bill of Rights 1689. The European Convention itself was truly Churchill’s legacy. This is part of who we are.

Unfortunately there’s been very little public education about the rights and freedoms contained in the HRA and ECHR, and how they protect us. That’s allowed these kinds of myths about human rights law to flourish. As we mark Blog Action Day by blogging for human rights, we say enough is enough. Why not get up to speed via the links below and join us in making a stand for human rights today?