After my recent appearances on Sky News, I received a lot of tweets calling me a “lefty” and a “liberal” when actually, for those who do know me, nothing could be further from the truth. I am true-blue Conservative, but I do have an unwavering sense of justice and fairness.
“Human Rights” have come in for a great deal of stick recently as politicians seek to make political capital. To me it’s not that easy. It’s a tricky area, because there are people who benefit from Human Rights legislation that others might think should not be in this country at all. Some people will take on the state, seeking rights and compensation, but at the same time displaying a hatred of everything we value and hold dear.
It would be easy and understandable to have an emotive response and throw the baby out with the bath water. But consider the following case, which came before Judge Clifford Bellamy who was sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge. I knew him when he was a District Judge in Leeds. Always courteous, his decisions were firm, fair and spot on. This is no exception.
He ordered Leicester City Council to pay two parents with learning disabilities £12,000 after their removal of the couple’s child was ruled a breach of human rights.
In H (A Child), the council had applied to take the couple’s baby girl into care. However, they did not do so promptly. Proceedings were not launched until shortly before the girl’s first birthday.
The parents managed to secure the return of the child, identified in the judgment as ‘H’, after a year. Sitting in the Family Court in Leicester, Judge Bellamy said the time the parents went without their daughter was “both unnecessarily lengthy and deeply distressing” for them.
Upon H’s return to her parents care, they agreed to a supervision order for a year. This allows professionals from social services to monitor the family’s progress and assist when necessary.
Leicester City Council accepted that the way they had approached the care order had indeed been a breach of the couple’s rights under Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Article 6 guarantees every citizen the right to “to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law”. Article 8 states that everyone “has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”, which cannot be infringed except “in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.
Despite their concession, the council still opposed the parents’ contention that they were owed compensation for the breaches. Judge Bellamy, however, disagreed. He stated that sections 7 and 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 allows people who have had their rights breached to “bring proceedings against the authority” responsible and that, if such an appeal is successful, the court “may grant such relief or remedy, or make such order, within its powers as it considers just and appropriate”.
The judge said that “great fortitude” had been required of the parents to cope with the potential loss of their child. However, the parents were “vulnerable”, had learning disabilities, and “no-one to speak up for them”.
Judge Bellamy ruled that “an award of damages of £6,000 for each parent would achieve ‘just satisfaction’ in all the circumstances of this case”. He declared that “an adverse impact on these parents was inevitable” due to the actions of the council.
This judgment, however, demonstrates the real value of human rights law, even if others do game the system. These parents went through the most deeply traumatic time having lost their child and not knowing whether she would ever be returned. For a year, their child was in the care of others. £6,000 to each of them cannot possibly undo the damage such a trauma will have inflicted, but it’s at least something.
To read the full judgment, click here.
Photo of Leicester by kev747 via Flickr