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Conservatives’ Bill of Rights: suddenly they are all relativists now

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Quick, we need some long-held, deeply felt convictions – and we need them fast. You know: stuff we can bung in a written UK constitution based on centuries of history, shared values and culture – that sort of thing. Why? Because that way we can keep the European Court of Human Rights off our backs.

The Conservative Party, you see, has noticed that the Strasbourg court – known for riding roughshod over UK government actions – is sometimes willing to let countries get away with things. But only if those countries have long-held, deeply felt convictions that emerge from their history, shared values and culture – and are written into their constitution.

Britain doesn’t have a written constitution, hence a new “UK Bill of Rights” that the Conservatives favour. Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary, has now announced just such a bill to amend the Human Rights Act.

The rationale used to justify a new Bill of Rights – that human rights are relative, not absolute – would not be out of place if uttered by a 1970s leftie lecturer at a bog-standard polytechnic. Here is arch-Tory Charlie Elphicke introducing his Bill of Rights (which Raab was involve with) in a parliamentary Private Member’s Bill in 2013:

The Bill is intended to help rebalance the approach to human rights towards a more subjective application to particular cases with the aim of ensuring that justice and fairness are not trumped by the rigid objective view that has characterised the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.”

So Strasbourg judges have been too objective, apparently. Elphicke is wholly insistent on this subjectivity point, rejecting the principle that judges should come to decisions on a straightforward objective reading of the law. They should take account of each country’s history, shared values and culture before making decisions on their governments’ alleged breaches of human rights.

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