Why the Human Rights Act is meaningless, in nine easy steps

Forget the conventional wisdom — government bills to protect human rights are just an act

I think I must be allergic to elevated levels of hysterical political chatter — it’s making me break out in expressions of my viewpoint.

Causing nasty irritation today — the Human Rights Act. I’ve spewed up nine bits of droning opinion, but I’m just on the dry heaves now. In fact, several of these are just facts, but they are seemingly unknown to plenty of people.

1. The Human Rights Act is not the same thing as human rights. Scrapping the former does nothing to the latter.

2. The HRA is not legally binding — it merely provides a shortcut to resolve ECHR-related issues domestically, and rulings under it can be and have been ignored, due to the fundamental way the UK system of government works.

3. The ECHR is legally binding amongst signatories (well, as long as they decide to let it be on the day).

4. A British Bill of Rights does not suggest that the British have different human rights to other people. If anything, it addresses the issue of having a supranational enumeration of rights which vary in their validity, and which are all meant to be respected by signatories, despite their sometimes rather piecemeal ratification. A signatory to the ECHR by definition insists that the others adhere to the protocols, while in some cases having failed to commit itself to do the same.

5. A British Bill of Rights is a bad idea too, because codified enumeration of rights sets dangerous precedent which suggests that rights are granted by government. The concept of a “supreme law” provides a cloak of legitimacy for the reality that its meaning is far from fixed.

6. The necessity of interpretation means that no matter how entrenched a set of rules is in theory, in practice it means they are far from secure, while unwritten convention often holds greater actual power. This is not even just my opinion in the UK. Parliamentary sovereignty, Politics A-level, etc.

7. One need only look at the archetype of the codification of rights, Amendments I through X of the United States Constitution, to see that even with the best of intentions, enumeration is useless. Despite their existence, the American state is sprawling, invasive, and omnipresent. And their Bill of Rights even includes a rule intended to deal with the problem I raise above in point 5, in the form of the Xth Amendment. The state has expanded its powers relentlessly despite the clear message of that Amendment, by wanton “reinterpretation” of the scope and meaning of the powers handed to it.

8. State guarantees of rights, even super duper constitutional carved on stone tablets ones, are just smoke and mirrors.

9. With all that in mind, doesn’t the HRA look terribly unimportant? Good riddance to an unnecessary piece of state machinery, which is at best impotent to protect your actual rights. It’s a pity it’s just going to be replaced by another one, much the same.


  • Government is always the problem.
  • With Russell Brand out of politics, I’ll be taking over going on YouTube and telling people not to vote, but with a less dickish vibe.
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