Did Europe Give Britain Human Rights?

In this unfunny film Patrick Stewart plays an arrogant foul-mouthed nationalist bigot who asks: ‘What has the European Convention on Human Rights ever done for us?‘ The answer comes: “…the right to a fair trial…the right to privacy…freedom from torture and degrading treatment…freedom of religion…freedom of expression…freedom from discrimination…freedom from slavery…domestic violence…and freedom from torture.

If you want to sneer at people for being ignorant of the facts, it’s generally advisable to check the facts yourself before sneering. Here is how those human rights really originated:

The Right to a Fair Trial.
The 39th clause of Magna Carter (1215) gives all ‘free men‘ the right to justice and a fair trial. This was extended by the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679.

The Right to Privacy.
Privacy is a broad term so by its very nature is difficult to define. There is no single privacy law in the UK, instead it’s covered by several acts of Parliament.
The earliest example (I am aware of) of British law protecting someone’s privacy was Thompson v Stanhope (1774) which granted an injunction preventing the publication of private letters. This case was followed by various others and by the mid-twentieth century the modern tort of ‘breach of confidence‘ was established.
The Theft Act (1968) made blackmail a crime.
The Protection from Harassment Act (1997) created both criminal sanctions and civil remedies for harassment.
The Data Protection Act (1998) deals with the handling of private and personal information.
The Sexual Offenses Act (2003) added a criminal offense of non-consensual voyeurism

Freedom from Torture.
English common law has always, in principle prohibited the use of torture. Indeed one of the distinguishing features of English common law writing from its earliest inception was its rejection of torture as a method of proof, and the House of Lords has accepted that this can properly be said to be a defining characteristic of English common law and as such a true constitutional principal. Furthermore the U.K.was well ahead of many other European jurisdictions in abolishing it’s use.

Freedom from Degrading Treatment
The English Bill of Rights criminalised ‘cruel and unusual punishments‘ in 1689.

Freedom of Religion.
The ‘Declarations of Indulgence‘ were a pair of proclamations made by James II of England (and VII of Scotland) in 1687 and 1688. It was the first step in establishing freedom of religion in the British Isles.

Freedom of Expression.
Free expression is a very broad subject which encapsulates many aspects of life. Whilst none of Magna Carta’s clauses make reference to free expression, by curbing royal powers and strengthening individual protection they extended liberties to the ‘freeman of England’.

In the civil war (1642-51) the Levellers used early print technology to produce pamphlets. One of them William Walwyn petitoned in 1647 that ‘no man for preaching or publishing his opinion on religion in a peaceable way, may be punished or persecuted as heretical by judges’

The 1689 Bill of Rights granted free speech for MPs in the confines of Parliament.

Between 1765 and 1769 Sir William Blackstone published his landmark common law texts stating that any book or pamphlet need not be subject to prior approval by a government before it was published, but that if it contained ‘improper, mischievous or illegal’ words the author could be prosecuted thereafter.

In 1872 the Government introduced the Parks Regulation Act that gave people the legal right of ‘public address’ at Hyde Park.

From Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, right up to DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover the state has often sought to censor certain types of expression, and even today ‘hate speech’ is a crime, however as publication has become easier, censorship has been abandoned  incrementally. admittedly this is as much to do with the impossibility of enforcement as the passing of any specific law, however many UK courts in the 1980s and early 1990s were already applying a free speech principle in many common law cases such as libel and saw it as their duty where possible to maintain free speech. Even before HRA judges were therefore willing to provide legal protection for what they saw as the foundational tenets of free speech. Further reading here.

Freedom from Discrimination.
Discrimination is a very broad term. Britain has passed several laws prohibiting many types of discrimination:
The Papists Act (1778) addressed discrimination against Catholics.
The Reform Act (1867) gave the vote to every male householder irrespective of race or religion.
The Representation of People Act gave women equal voting rights (before France, Spain or Italy and slightly before Germany in 1918).
Britain passed the Race Relations Act in 1965.
Britain decriminalized homosexuality in 1967.
Britain passed the Equal Pay Act in 1970.

Freedom from Domestic Violence.
The Married Woman’s Property Act (1870) meant any money earned or inherited by a woman while married stayed hers.
The Matrimonial Causes Act (1878) made it possible for women in the UK to seek legal separation from an abusive husband.
The Matrimonial Causes Act (1923) allowed divorce on the grounds of adultery for women as well as men.
The Sexual Offenses Act (1956) extended the definition of rape to include incest, sex with a girl under 16 and the use of drugs.
The 1976 Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act specifically addressed domestic violence and gave survivors new rights, by offering civil protection orders.
The 1977 Housing Act acknowledged women and children at risk of violence as homeless and therefore entitled to state-funded temporary accommodation.
In 1991 Marital Rape was criminalised.
The Family Law Act Part IV (1996) gave police automatic powers of arrest where violence had been used or threatened.
The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004) allowed the police to arrest an assailant immediately rather than wait for a warrant.
Claire’s Law (2014) gave women the right to ask police about a partner’s history of domestic abuse.

Abolition of Slavery.
Britain passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

The film ends with an awkward minister explaining to Prime Minister Bigot:
…After the war British legal experts did draft a bill of human rights to help Europe sort itself out, you know, to help protect people from abuses of state power, that kind of thing…it’s called the European Convention on Human Rights…” So, the film makers have shot their own fox by admitting that Britain wrote European human rights law and not vise versa!

Conclusion.
This film is political propaganda which seeks to establish the historical lie that it’s thanks to European institutions that Britain has human rights. The truth is that for many of the human rights it enjoys, it’s actually Europe that is indebted to Britain.

The EU and the ECHR are two quite separate things but obviously by throwing this into the middle of Britain’s referendum campaign the Remain side are hoping this film will dupe people into associating Europe with human rights and independence with foul-mouthed ignorance.

It is a standard EU tactic to claim credit for every good thing in the modern world irrespective of whether they contributed towards it. They confront nothing yet claim to have given us peace. They preside over economic catastrophe yet claim to have given us prosperity, they increase emissions whilst claiming to have given us environmentalism, and as they strangle democracy they pretend they gave us human rights. Your precious EU is no friend of liberty.

If you really care about human rights then I would advise you to vote for independence, that way there will be a direct correlation between the opinions of the people and the power of their representatives, which as we have seen throughout history, always leads to greater liberty and prosperity.

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