Frances Lawrence, wife of murdered head teacher Philip Lawrence, was frustrated in her attempts to establish the whereabouts of her husband’s killer on his release from prison. Ministers insisted they were powerless to tell Mrs Lawrence where the convicted murderer, Learco Chindamo, was living because it would have been a breach of the Data Protection Act. How can a right be so wrong?
Now it emerges that Chindamo has been arrested on suspicion of another violent attack just four months after being freed. Surely Mrs Lawrence and her children had an overriding right to be protected from contact with him? That’s common sense.
It seems the authorities have been bending over backwards to protect Chindamo’s rights. A little over three years ago, it came to David Cameron’s attention that Chindamo would escape deportation to his native Italy because it would breach his right under the Human Rights Act (HRA) to enjoy family life in this country. Cameron, persuaded that this right was wrong, immediately called for the HRA to be abolished. “It has to go,” he said. “Abolish the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights… The fact that the murderer of Philip Lawrence cannot be deported flies in the face of common sense.” In the Conservative Party’s general election manifesto, Cameron duly pledged to scrap the Act. An unholy alliance with the Liberal Democrats put paid to any further progress.
The ink was barely dry on the Coalition agreement before the HRA threw up another outrageous anomaly. In July, the European Court of Human Rights blocked the extradition to the United States of Abu Hamza, the radical Muslim cleric, along with other suspects required to stand trial for alleged terrorist offences. Apparently, potential punishment may have violated HRA provisions prohibiting torture and inhumane or degrading treatment. Officials at Strasbourg were clearly thumbing their noses at the British courts that had already approved the extradition.
The European Court of Human Rights should not have the right to undermine national sovereignty in this way. Power should be returned to Westminster where bad laws can be repealed by politicians elected by the British people. That would be common sense.
Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. As far as a Bill of Rights is concerned, it seems to me we may also need a Bill of Responsibilities. Human rights may be founded on respect for the dignity and worth of each person, but that’s not as straightforward as it sounds. The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Perhaps what’s really needed is a Bill of Common Sense, policed by an independent judiciary secure in its constitutional position.