UCC Faculty of Law Adjunct Professor Lord Lester of Herne QC has revealed that he quit as Prime Minister Gordon Brownâ€™s advisor on constitutional reform last month because of the British Governmentâ€™s â€œdismalâ€ lack of leadership on human rights. Described at the time of his appointment as an â€œeminent outsiderâ€ brought into â€œthe government of all talentsâ€ his position was clearly not a comfortable one.
In a speech marking 60 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Lord Lester revealed that he had felt â€œtetheredâ€ by the government and described its human rights record as â€œdismal and deeply disappointingâ€. He singled out the Justice Secretary Jack Straw for particular criticism for both a failure to defend the Human Rights Act and the lack of radical constitutional reform. The criticism of Jack Straw comes on the back of the Justice Secretaryâ€™s comments in the Daily Mail pledging to â€œreform the â€˜villainâ€™s charterâ€™â€ (the Human Rights Act).
Lord Lester stated that
“In spite of its achievement in introducing the Human Rights Act, the government has a deeply disappointing record in giving effect to the values underpinning the Human Rights Act in its policies and practices. Through a lack of political leadership, it has also failed to match the expectations raised by the Governance of Britain green paper for much-needed constitutional reform.”
And he criticised the government’s failures to fight for human rights in relation to a wide range of human rights issues:
“The government could have celebrated Human Rights Day by defending the Human Rights Act against unfair attack. It could have celebrated by accepting the recommendations of the UN human rights treaty bodies, the joint committee on human rights and NGOs to allow the people of this country to exercise the right of individual petition against the government under the international covenant on civil and political rights, the convention for the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, and the torture convention.
“The UK is alone in the European Union in refusing to do so in the case of the international covenant. And the government is judge in its own, rather than in the people’s cause, in shielding itself in this way.”
Many human rights activists and organisations have voiced their support and understanding for Lord Lesterâ€™s position. Amnesty International issued a statement saying that they sympathised with his position and were â€œdisappointed by the antagonism towards human rights coming from the government.â€ The proposed 42 day detention period and the treatment of asylum seekers were singled out by Amnesty as causing particular concern.