Human Rights? …yeah right

October 5, 2014

…In the UK at the moment there is much talk of Human Rights as the Conservative Party publish their proposed reforms to correct perceived adverse consequences of rulings in the European Court of Human Rights.

It is a highly political move which seems to be a surprise to some critics of the proposals. Although surely a political party, threatened by an overtly right-wing UKIP and only seven months before a General Election, is bound to come up with proposals designed to please the right-wing press and re-engage some supporters who might otherwise defect to UKIP?

So far so bad, perhaps, but the response from opponents has been predictably inept. Everything I have read so far has either been abusive of politicians in the Conservative Party or slightly worthy, analytically critical, lawyerly argument…

The abuse of individuals, self-evidently, doesn’t make any difference; while the analytical critiques are simply lawyers talking to other like-minded lawyers.

The problem however is more fundamental and is not being addressed. The only reason any politician wants to be a politician is to be elected then re-elected. To be elected or re-elected politicians must propose policies they believe will be popular with enough people to get them elected. There is zero incentive to do things that will be unpopular with supporters. There is zero incentive to do things that may be popular, but too late for an election. Therefore the only reason the Conservative Party is proposing reform of Human Rights legislation now is because the Party calculates it will be popular with supporters and will get them re-elected next year.

It must be the case therefore that they believe the current legislation and its consequences are unpopular. Until those who oppose the reforms address this question, they will fail. Abuse and lawyerly critiques miss the point, miss the target audience and miss the need to explain and influence in ways that we can all understand.

I also put another challenge to the legal profession.

I believe all of us would be appalled if our own UK lawyers operated within an environment that discriminated against them based on their gender. Can you imagine the outcry if newly qualified women lawyers knew today that only a tiny percentage of them would ever make it too partnership.

…oh, hang on, they do! This is the situation today In the UK has been for decades. No, not decades, I mean since forever.

How can this be? How can lawyers in this country be so appalled at proposed reforms to Human Rights legislation and so good at running businesses that discriminate against women?

In 2014 every law firm should have exemplary policies that actually work to promote talent without fear or favour whatever a person’s race, colour or gender. It is an absolute disgrace that the legal profession, of all professions, should be so woeful in this regard. Many firms have exemplary policies, few have exemplary results. Behaviour is the only measure that matters and not enough law firms have changed their behaviours enough to make the difference. Shame on us.

I have three things to say. First, stop abusing individuals, it demeans the argument and bolsters our opponents. Secondly while worthy analysis is important, it must be accompanied by arguments that explain the value of Human Rights as they are, their importance to all of us and why change is not in our interests – and this must be done in a way we can all understand. Finally, our profession has been rubbish at dealing with discrimination. Please sort this out, sort it out now, be an exemplar and maybe, just maybe, our words will be respected more as a result.

Paul Gilbert

Chief Executive LBC Wise Counsel

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