Lord Lester lambasts Labour on human rights

by Stephen Tall on December 11, 2008

A month after Lord (Anthony) Lester quit his role as unpaid adviser to Gordon Brown on constitutional affairs, he’s broken his silence on the reasons for his resignation. In fact, ‘broken his silence’ doesn’t really do justice to his excoriation of Labour’s “dismal” failure to provide political leadership on human rights, branding Justice secretary Jack Straw as “lamentable”.

Lord Lester’s interview with The Guardian was published today to mark the 60th anniversary of the UN’s declaration of human rights. It’s well worth reading in full, but here’s an extract:

[Lord Lester] singled out the justice secretary, Jack Straw, for failing to produce a radical constitutional renewal bill or to defend the Human Rights Act. Straw angered human rights campaigners by giving an interview in the Daily Mail this week in which he said many people felt the act, passed by the government in 1990 while he was home secretary, was perceived as a “villains’ charter”. Lester angrily described the interview as a “sly attempt” to undermine public support for the act. Under the headline “Straw gets tough”, the Mail described his pledge to “reform ‘villains’ charter’ “.

Lester said: “The interview reports Jack Straw as blaming ‘nervous’ judges. In his effort to appease the editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, the justice secretary has undermined the Human Rights Act. That is a lamentable departure from his predecessors as lord chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Falconer, who staunchly defended the Human Rights Act.”

Lester went on: “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.”