Over the weekend the papers were full of the story of the terror suspect who is to have his electronic monitoring tag on his ankle removed, because he fears it contains a bomb. The man’s lawyers had argued before the High Court that the effect of the monitoring measure on his mental health has been such as has breached Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), since it has amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment. Despite strong opposition from the Home Secretary, Mr Justice Collins found in favour of the man and ordered that the monitoring measure should be quashed.
The story was seized upon with glee by the anti-human rights brigade, with one headline in a certain national newspaper describing it as “human rights madness”. The general feeling of the naysayers is that we are prepared to grant human rights to the terrorists, whilst ignoring the human rights of their potential victims, i.e. the people of the UK. As they see it, the case is further evidence in favour of the argument that the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) should be scrapped.
The case, however, was about medical evidence, not about the HRA preventing our security services from protecting the country. That evidence indicated that the man’s mental health had clearly deteriorated, and there was a real concern that the deterioration would result in the man seriously self-harming. Once that medical evidence was accepted by the court, the breach of Article 3 was clear, and the order of the court followed from that. If the medical evidence had not supported the argument of the man’s lawyers, the order of the court would have been different.
And no, Mr Justice Collins did not ignore the safety of the people of the UK. The evidence indicated that the man’s ability to take any effective terrorism-related activity had lessened, and other measures to restrict him remain in place.
The important thing about all of this is that in our society everyone has human rights, including terror suspects. That makes our society better than other societies that do not respect human rights for all. It is a basic pillar of our society that everyone is equal, and it must follow from that that everyone should be treated with equal respect. That is where the HRA comes in. It is not about giving rights only to certain people, but quite the opposite: it is about giving rights to all. Whoever you are, if your human rights are being breached, you can seek a remedy in our courts.
What has all of this got to do with family law? Well, human rights apply to every aspect of our law, and that certainly includes family law, as I have explained here previously. In particular, Article 6 of the ECHR enshrines the right to a fair trial and Article 8 enshrines the right to respect for private and family life. These principles are fundamental to any good family justice system.
The HRA operates as a sort of ‘cross-check’, ensuring that our laws are, indeed, compliant with those and the other basic principles of the ECHR. It is not there to act as an impediment to the law, but as an aid to ensure good law. As such, it benefits all of us. To throw it away or to limit the rights of certain sections of society would be to bring us down to the level of those who seek to do us harm.
The judgment of Mr Justice Collins in the terror suspect case can be read here.
Photo by niXerKG via Flickr