Riots v Rights


The August Riots in England will of course provide fertile ground for a lot of commentary. Perhaps some commentary will point to a degrading ‘Broken Britain’ as a consequence of 30 years of individualism and profit seeking that has made poverty commonplace yet dishonourable.

 This comment is aimed however at more immediate concerns. It has been said that a good crisis should not go to waste. Our government has proved adept in making the best use of crises so far to pursue its ideological agenda. It should however be prevented from capturing the debate relating to the riots.

 The Conservative party has a stated desire to ‘amend’ the Human Rights Act. Based partly on misunderstanding and partly on covert strategy, it sees human rights as an impediment to effective social control. In an ironic way this mirrors the behaviour of New Labour that preached human rights while at the same time significantly undermined civil liberties.

 The replacement of the Human Rights Act with a charter of rights and responsibilities will be a massive retrograde step for Britain on two fronts. First, human rights are an anti-state discourse whereby the rights of the individual are asserted against intrusion by the state. This is incompatible with the idea of ‘responsibilities’ as hinted by the government. Secondly, amending the enabling legislation of the European Convention of Human Rights is likely to cause significant constitutional problems, considering that the ECHR is a matter of domestic law via EU law, as well as a matter of international law.

 Dreadful examples of social disintegration like the August riots need to be met by improving standards of human decency and civil cooperation. Allowing an anti-libertarian agenda to benefit from the thoughtless works of bands of criminals will do as much to prevent fixing ‘Broken Britain’ as the acts of vandalism themselves.

Dr. Ioannis Glinavos
Associate Lecturer, The Open University


5 thoughts on “Riots v Rights

  1. Paul Flodman says:

    Couldn’t agree more. The Conservatives have never seemed to understand Human Rights and dislike any institution that is outside of their remit and control such as the European Union and the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights.

    Following the judgement at Strasbourg regarding prisoners voting rights I recently did a presentation to a multi-national group of police officers in Cologne and before I started it I posed the question should prisoners be allowed to vote in a General Election. Most non UK nationals stated that they should and indeed advised that it was enshrined in many constitutions whereas every UK national said no. Prisoners who I tutor stated that those who were serving a sentence of less than 3 years should. The Conservatives appear to be content to pay out to those who claim for the denial of the right. Privacy is another issue and maybe Lord Leveson’s inquiry may sort this out.

    I am a loss regarding these latest riots but have to say that an answer to a question by a TV reporter to a group of young Londoners who looked as if they may have taken part regarding the sentences being imposed on the rioters as to whether they would act as a disincentive to others and they were definite in their reply that they would. Some sort of inquiry should take place but my hope is that it is an isolated phenomena.

    Paul Flodman

  2. Kris says:

    Without wishing to become party political, I’ve never understood the call for a “British Bill of Rights” – particularly when we have one dated 1689. While I understand that the 1689 Bill of Rights is but one of the several parts of our Constitution, those who want entrenched rights already have them by way of the European Convention. That treaty obligation makes those rights the law of the land.

    “Natural” rights were first entrenched the USA’s Bill of Rights, and from these roots the concept of entrenched rights was developed in the UN Convention and down to the European Convention. According to natural law principles, we are all born with certain rights: they are given to us by God, and not by Government.

    I suspect the call for “British” Human Rights has to do with a dislike for rulings coming from Strasbourg which appear to some to be expanding rights beyond the scope of natural rights – or even the the plain meaning of the ECHR Articles. People want to know why foreign murderers have an Article 8 “right to a family life” in the UK – or why prisoners “have a right to chocolate and lucozade”

    Surely that’s an issue of judicial interpertation rather than with the rights themselves.

  3. Annette-OU law student says:

    Over the years I have heard the statement “it’s against my human rights” from my own teen who is attempting to avoid loading the dishwasher, to the abusive and agressive member of the public, when I was as a nurse. To my son my comment was always the same, “remember with rights come responsibilities and show me which article is being infringed?”
    The desire to amand the HRA, will no doubt erode human rights further, coupled with the removal of legal aid and access to justice. I am very afraid. True rights are to be cherished and protected.

  4. Ioannis says:

    It seems this debate has broken out in the media already. As I said, they are not ones to lose a good chance!

    See the following on the FT.

  5. Farhana says:

    An excellent way to put it, totally agree with you.

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