This is the text of a 'Platform' article published in the News Letter 2 April 2010
The Human Rights Commission’s remit in regard to a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland was fulfilled when it delivered its advice to the Secretary of State. The debate now belongs in the political arena.
We are at the end of the extended Government consultation period on their proposals. The reality is that the election is upon us and nothing will happen before the next parliament. Conservatives and Unionists have pledged to enact a UK wide Bill of Rights with a section for Northern Ireland. No-one should expect that section to be significantly bigger than Labour’s proposals, (though it might address different issues).
We have had over ten years of deliberation by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, we have had the Bill of Rights forum; a foreign philanthropic foundation has invested millions of pounds in lobbying and advertising by non statutory bodies. One might ask why such an organisation should consider the amending of human rights legislation in Northern Ireland in a particular way to be a cause worthy of disbursing so many millions of pounds.
It is appropriate to reflect on where we go from here.
The NIHRC proposals are dead in the water. There can be no doubt about that. But the time is ripe for change in human rights legislation across the UK.
The Human Rights Act is twelve years old. It has put judges in positions of political controversy. It has created a culture of rights without responsibilities. And it has failed to protect traditional freedoms.
Recently a doctor convicted in the UK of sexually assaulting two of his patients had his conviction in a British court overturned at Strasbourg because the Strasbourg court held that his right to a fair trial had been violated. One of his victims had committed suicide after giving a statement to the police. The British court allowed the statement to be given in evidence, in accord with British law. Strasbourg quashed his conviction, because he hadn’t been able to examine one of his accusers.
Many lawyers think that it is time to bring Human Rights home – to stop the confusion that can arise when judges are obliged to take into account two sometimes conflicting bodies of law.
If elected, Conservatives and Unionists will bring forward proposals for a UK Bill of Rights to strengthen and better protect our traditional liberties, with a section dealing with any issues specific to Northern Ireland. We don’t need any other special treatment.