Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in SpainSpain
- Here, from The Local, is what you need to know about the wealthiest and the poorest places in Spain.
- I'm guessing that exactly 0.000% of the Spanish population is surprised that Repsol has been heavily fined for petrol price-fixing up here in NW Spain.
- The delays to the completion of the AVE high-speed train track from Madrid to Galicia are getting serious. The EU says they'll cost the region some subsidies. Which will, of course, delay things even further. IGIMSTS.
- An amusing local priest.
- As elsewhere in at least Europe, Spain is now restricting the sale of the analgesics paracetamol and ibuprofen to smaller tablet sizes. In addition, you can only get these at pharmacies, not in supermarkets as in the Anglosphere. Too much nannying?
- I've been trying - without success - to find ways to ensure the sparrows in my garden are not completely ousted from the feeding station by greenfinches. The latter seem to be permanent residents this year, which is new. I wonder if this - rather than global warming - lies behind their decision to move north.
- Yesterday I expressed may disgust at 'insults to the canine race'. As I walked into town a bit later, I saw this example. Smaller than the average cat. As my brother used to say: It's amazing what you see when you don't have your rifle with you.
- Never in the history of this country have its people been so ill-served by their elected representatives.
- This is nice analysis from Politco. Extract: In her failure, May has managed to do exactly what Brussels sought to avoid: exporting Britain's domestic crisis to the rest of Europe. In doing so, the prospect of an imposed no-deal crashout on October 31 has increased, as the pressure builds on EU leaders to put an end to the saga, regardless of the costs. . . Some senior officials in London and Dublin now fear the process is leading inexorably to a no-deal exit, in which everyone loses and the very thing the backstop is designed to avoid — a hard border — is introduced immediately. IGIMSTS.
- German exports and industrial production have suffered the biggest drop in 4 years. So, the Bundesbank has cut his forecast of 2019 growth from 1.6% to just 0.6%. Which doesn't sound much but really is. Recession looming?
- The article below gives an insight into British antipathy to the European Court of Human Rights.
- According to Fart, the earth's moon is 'part of Mars'. As someone has said, no wonder he doesn't want us to see his school reports.
- Word of the Da: Hombre
- My measures aimed at ensuring 'my' sparrows survive include buying a second feeding station and then moving it to the front garden when the greenfinches took over that as well. But it didn't work, as the sparrows seem to be unaware there's a front garden. So now it's back in the rear garden, some way away from the first one. No signs of success yet . . .
We should take back control of human rights: Jenni Russell
Critics are right to say the ECHR has strayed from its founding principles and is infringing too much on our sovereignty.
On Tuesday morning I listened to a radio lecture and changed my mind on a key subject. This doesn’t happen much, to any of us. Evidence shows once we have an opinion we tend to stick to it. Life is too dense and complicated for us to spend time reviewing our attitudes or researching each one. But this lecture made me realise I’d jumped to a conclusion from false assumptions. Sadly this may not be an isolated case.
The title of the lecture was so dull and worthy that I’d never have tuned in unless by accident, and because the alternatives were worse. I promise it’s better than it sounds. Human Rights and Wrongs, was one of this year’s Reith Lectures by the former supreme court justice Jonathan Sumption. It was an eloquent attack on the role of the European Convention of Human Rights in British law, and an argument for why we should withdraw or distance ourselves from the judgments made by the court in Strasbourg, of which our courts must take account.
Withdrawing from the ECHR is a Tory policy I have always opposed. David Cameron’s government came to power promising to replace our membership of the ECHR and its court with a British Bill of Rights. I was indignant about this, and my logic was simple: human rights are good, so a Human Rights Act is excellent, and a court that enforces them is better still. Also, Churchill was one of the prime movers behind the creation of the ECHR after the Second World War, so what could be more inspiring than that?
The convention had been drawn up as a noble response to the horrors of totalitarian regimes. It was designed to lay out rights that would protect Europe’s populations from losing fundamental freedoms to any future authoritarian governments. Of course these should be defended. If the Tories wanted to leave, this was because they were pandering to some Little Englander notion that all things European should be resisted or because they wanted to make life meaner for people. This could only be beastly Tories being beastly.
Well, no. Sumption’s argument is that human rights are an excellent and important concept. But in an irreligious age they are not handed down by a god and they do not exist in a vacuum. They are a social and political choice, made by human beings, to define some rights as so fundamental and so widely accepted that they are no longer a matter of legitimate political debate.
He argues that only a couple of categories of rights truly fit this description. The first are those that protect us from arbitrary death or repression at the hands of brutal regimes, outlawing random killings, detentions or injury, and ensuring independent courts and equality before the law. The second guarantees the functioning of a democracy; freedom of speech and association, and the right to take part in free and regular elections.
Any rights beyond these basic ones may be very desirable and sought after, but as long as there is “room for reasonable people to disagree about them” then these are no longer human rights but political decisions, which must be argued about and decided by the people who are to be bound by them. They should not be imposed by a distant court as matters beyond debate.
This, says Sumption, is what has gone wrong with the functioning of the ECHR. Its original statements of rights were limited; no torture, due process of law and so forth. But it has become what he calls a dynamic treaty, interpreting those principles increasingly widely in mission creep. And since the Labour government of Tony Blair decided to make us subject to Strasbourg’s decisions by passing the Human Rights Act in 1998, those judgments have the power to override our common law or current acts of parliament.
That has created immense legal confusion and a financial bonanza for lawyers. The British courts can strike down any law or regulation that they find incompatible with the ECHR, and those rights are being constantly widened. Article 8, for instance, guarantees the right to private and family life, the privacy of the home and of personal correspondence. It was intended to protect citizens from the Big Brother of a totalitarian surveillance state. But Strasbourg has gone way beyond that, developing Article 8 into “a principle of personal autonomy”. Anything that intrudes upon personal freedom can fall under it.
Under Article 8 the court has ruled on: eviction for non-payment of rent, environmental and planning law, the recording of crime, artificial insemination, employment rights, homosexuality, extradition, immigration and deportation, child abduction, the legal status of illegitimate children, and much more. None of these, as Sumption says, is an area found in the language of the convention and none has been agreed by the signatory states. They are contentious and therefore far from fundamental. Their inclusion has “transformed the convention from an expression almost universally sacred, into something meaner . . . and the result has been to devalue the whole notion of universal human rights”.
We are all familiar with some of the key rulings of the human rights court. It blocked the deportation of the Jordanian radical cleric Abu Qatada for fear that evidence based on torture would be used against him there. It decided that prisoners should be given the vote, and it ruled against Christians who said they were fired for refusing to carry out marriage ceremonies or give sex advice to gay couples. Sumption’s point is not that the judgments are necessarily wrong, or that the additional rights it is creating ought not to exist. He welcomes some of them. It is that these are decisions for each country to arrive at. As he says, “one can believe that one’s fellow citizens ought to choose liberal values without wanting to impose them”.
This argument has particular resonance now in the age of Brexit. The ECHR is not part of the EU, even though it is frequently confused with it, and I’ve lost count of the Brexiteers who tell me one of their chief reasons for leaving Europe is “so we can deport terrorists’’.
But there is a huge demand in this country for greater sovereignty. In the case of Brexit, I am all for sharing sovereignty with fellow Europeans over trade issues like the regulation of car parts or drugs because the bargain is clear; following the rules gives access to an enormous, profitable market.
The law on social issues is a different matter. We should be able to choose, debate and develop our own rules on how to live together. Taking laws out of our hands makes opposition feel illegitimate and makes dissenters bewildered, sullen and cowed. David Cameron was right. Democrats should take back control, replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and returning greater power to our own parliament and courts.