Rights Gone Wrong?, BBC Two, review

imageDid Andrew Neil prove that human rights laws are failing us? James Walton reviews BBC Two’s timely documentary.

Just in case he wasn’t unpopular enough already, Rights Gone Wrong? (BBC Two) suggested that Adolf Hitler is also responsible for our inability to get rid of Abu Qatada. As the programme explained, the European Convention on Human Rights – which has prevented Qatada’s deportation — was drawn up in 1950 to ensure that no European nation ever went the way of Nazi Germany again. Any citizens who thought their governments were behaving unjustly could now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The good news is that the no-more-dictatorships plan worked out pretty well. The bad news is that this means the convention isn’t, after all, a fiendish plot cooked up by EU bureaucrats. For one thing, it’s got nothing to do with the EU, but is part of the much larger Council of Europe. For another, the visionary behind it was Winston Churchill.

Presenter Andrew Neil was clearly keen to do a lot more myth-busting. Where possible, he cited examples of recent media exaggeration. (It turns out you can’t avoid deportation merely by owning a cat.) He assiduously noted any decisions from Strasbourg that he believed most Britons would endorse — especially the one saving Andrew Neil from prison during the Spycatcher affair in the 1980s. But once the programme came up to date, the received wisdoms became harder to overthrow.

Neil’s approach remained level-headed. Yet, particularly after the 1998 Human Rights Act had incorporated it into British law, the convention seemed more than ever like something expressly invented to illustrate the law of unintended consequences.

Take Aso Mohammed Ibrahim, failed asylum seeker and disqualified driver, whose car hit 12-year-old Amy Houston. Ibrahim ran off, leaving Amy dying under the wheels, but couldn’t be deported because he married a British woman after his release from jail. The European Court also overruled a British law restricting forced marriages — seemingly on the grounds that the right of the men to a family life overrides the right of young women not to be abducted.

In the circumstances it wasn’t surprising that Neil could find very few supporters of the status quo among the British establishment. The trouble is that he couldn’t find many more who thought it would, or even should, change any time soon. As he pointed out, the logical next step is that Britain withdraws from the convention. But, apart from the odd maverick backbencher, nobody wants to do that in case we set a bad example to Europe’s real human-rights abusers such as Russia (who ignore the court’s findings anyway). In other words, Neil concluded, the choice is stark — to leave or to put up and shut up. The current plan, it seems, is to do neither.

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