June 7, 2017 11.59 am This story is over 51 months old

Barry Turner: There is no need to scrap human rights law, using it would be far more effective

“We have the laws to deal with terrorists, but it seems that we have often not had the will.”

In the wake of the appalling attacks in Manchester and London, there is once again the cry to scrap the Human Rights Act. The populist appeal of this is a reflection of the media’s constant reference to human rights legislation as if it was solely designed to protect the rights of criminals and terrorists. The facts are it was never intended to do that.

The Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights extend considerably beyond those of interest to the press. One that is constantly ignored is Article 17, in spite of the fact that on analysis this is perhaps the most important of them all. Article 17 is simple and clear: it is there to protect not only the Convention rights of others, but to protect the ideals of a democratic society. Most importantly, the state is entitled to take steps to safeguard its democratic values including by pre-emption. Taking steps before an event.

In a nutshell, Article 17 makes clear that no one who intends to violate the rights of others may rely on the Convention to facilitate that. No one has a right to violate the rights of others.

It is clear that radical steps need to be taken to root out those who seek to harm innocent civilians in the name of some perverse creed or ideology. It is similarly clear that those who wish to threaten our democracy and values have chosen a position whereby the state is legally entitled to limit their rights and limit them drastically. Terrorists and murderers do not — and never have — shared the rights of the ordinary citizen; they have chosen to forego them in their ideology and their actions.

It is now clear that Britain needs to more directly apply law aimed at terrorists, law which openly declares their loss of human rights. They do not have the right to freedom of expression, they do not have the right to follow ideologies that openly declare war on democracy and western values, they do not have rights to freedom of association with other murderous individuals and associations, they do not have a right to a family and private life because they have chosen to abandon it. If caught in the act, they do not have a right to life because society has a right to protect itself by deadly force if necessary.

Our laws need adjusting not scrapping or tearing up. We have the laws to deal with terrorists, but it seems that we have often not had the will. Unfurling an ISIS flag in the United Kingdom is already a crime, yet one of the London knife attackers did that with impunity on a Channel 4 documentary. Calling for the beheading of unbelievers is a crime with a potential seven-year prison sentence. Making speeches praising terrorists is a crime, also with a potential seven-year sentence. Those sentences need extending to 15 years and they need to be applied.  The sentence needs to be served in full followed by deportation orders where appropriate. The Terrorism Act 2006 is fully capable of dealing with those who plan, commit and support terrorist activity if only it was used more often.

Tearing up the Human Rights Act denies rights to the law abiding, those for whom the rights were originally intended. Those who drafted the European Convention on Human Rights did not ever intend that murderers and terrorist sympathizers would be entitled to use those rights to justify their poisonous creeds or to escape the consequences of punishment when they were caught. Denying rights to terrorists is perfectly legal and compatible with the provisions of the Human Rights legislation.

Why should everyone give up their rights when we can quite legally already deny them to those who do not deserve them?

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Barry Turner is Senior Lecturer in Media Law and Public Administration at the University of Lincoln.