HOWARD'S WAY.... a weekly column from Michael Howard MP
May 2006<IMG height=195 hspace=10 src="images/michaelhoward3.jpg" width=130 align=right vspace=10 border=0>
The subject of human rights is back in the news. A string of decisions Ã¢â‚¬â€œ by the Courts and by the Parole Board Ã¢â‚¬â€œ have led to justified feelings of outrage. The Prime Minister has deplored the workings of his own Human Rights Act of 1998.
Some of us are entitled to say:- Ã¢â‚¬Å“We told you so.Ã¢â‚¬?
I have always had reservations about the Human Rights Act. That was not always a popular position to take. After all, who could be against human rights?
The difficulty arises when you try and enshrine these rights in an Act of Parliament and then give Judges the responsibility of balancing those rights against other objections of public policy, most notably the importance of protecting the public.
Many of the most difficult questions that arise in our Ã¢â‚¬â€œ or any Ã¢â‚¬â€œ society involve trying to strike the right balance between competing rights, interests and policy objectives.
Traditionally, in a democratic society, these balancing decisions are made by elected representatives of the people. So, in our country, these decisions were for Politicians. When considering a particular problem, and the appropriate legislative response to it, Parliament would consider how to strike the right balance into the specific Act it then passed. Of course that Act would, in due course, be interpreted by the Judges. But they would be interpreting the will of Parliament as expressed in the Act.
The Human Rights Act places a new and different responsibility on Judges. For example it invites them to decide whether a particular Act of Parliament is Ã¢â‚¬Å“proportionateÃ¢â‚¬? to the problem it is designed to remedy. But that is exactly what Parliament should and would have considered itself.
When I was Leader of the Conservative Party I set up a review of the working if the Act. I wanted to know whether it could be reformed or whether it would have to be repealed. The fact that Mr Blair now seems to have reached a similar view is welcome. But I hope that this time words really will lead to effective action.