Why we need a British Bill of Rights.

I recently wrote to the Commission on a Bill of Rights in favour of creating a UK Bill of Rights. (11 November 2011). That paper (4 1/2 pages) is in the articles section of the website.

I am a sceptic about human rights language in this country. I find the language often misused, both by critics and by those wanting to get something out of it. The European Court of Justice judgment saying that Britain cannot deport asylum seekers to Greece (21 December) will not help as it simply leaves a political problem. At the same time many advocates use 'human rights' as the magic bullet argument to say that x that they believe in (development or an economic benefit for example) should be provided, which simply means they politically support it. Often I do too but I don't think the rights language helps. It would be nice if the tabloids ever reported the people (public servants, campaigners, volunteers) actually using human rights on the ground in a way that helps both the people doing their jobs and people being cared for, or dependent on public services. I only see those stories reported in the Guardian or the Independent.

As soon as I had sent in the response I remembered two small examples which I should have included which demonstrate how the European Convention on Human Rights is both out of date and allows double standards. This is about the treatment of minorities.

Greece officially denies that there are any minority populations in the country, which is implausible and must challenge EU commitments to equal treatment. It is assumed that EU countries act in accordance with the ECHR to which all are signatories (it predates the EU by many years). In France everyone is officially either French or 'non-French born'. So the country officially claims that there is no discrimination against ethnic minorities because everyone is treated equally, as all French or non-French born residents are treated equally. The denial is palbably untrue because discrimination then occurs either on perceived race or ethnicity, or geographically based (as it might more subtly here – perceived either for or against minority populations) or based on where parents were born. The enforcement of human rights and equality of treatment under EU Law must require that discrimination against minorities is monitored. If two major EU states can ignore such an obvious requirement the convention is clearly a weak protection as it can only be applied to assist in individual cases but where evidence of any pattern to show discrimination will be lacking.