by Stephen Tall on October 3, 2014
Conservative MP and former Attorney-General
Reason: for sticking to his principles and standing up for international law and human rights
Imagine, just for a moment, that Russia’s President Putin were to make the following announcement… He, Putin, and his ministers no longer considered themselves bound by international law or their treaty obligations; state-appointed judges would no longer be able to re-interpret laws so they comply with human rights; the conduct of Russian troops abroad would no longer be subject to human rights challenges; and that human rights would no longer apply in what Russia judged to be ‘trivial’ cases.
That, today, is what Chris Grayling, the Tory justice secretary, has announced will be his party’s policy on human rights at the next election. Of course, the UK is not Russia. We know that. The comparison is absurd. To us. But it leaves in tattered shreds our credibility to champion the cause of international human rights abroad when our own ministers give it such short shrift here at home.
And human rights matter here too. As The Guardian notes in a balanced editorial today:
The Human Rights Act is certainly not perfect. It has done an imperfect job of checking the growth of creeping authoritarianism, first under the New Labour government that brought in the act, and now under the often rather more cautious Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. But the arbitrary use of stop and search powers highlighted this week at the Conservative conference took place in Human Rights Act Britain; the court-authorised police access to journalists’ phone records revealed this week in the Chris Huhne case took place here too; and the secret evidence and closed procedures which were at the heart of the collapse of the Moazzam Begg prosecution on Wednesday, have flourished in Human Rights Act Britain as well.
You might expect the lefty Guardian to fret about such issues. You might not expect the strait-laced Conservative MP for Beaconsfield, Dominic “I’m conservative to my fingertips” Grieve QC, Attorney-General from 2010-14, to share their concerns. But he does, and some:
“The principles of conservatism include upholding the rule of law and the United Kingdom’s international legal obligations. If the party of which I’m a member makes an announcement which has the potential to breach the law and those obligations then I will argue against it … It would be very unsatisfactory.”
And on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme he tore into the Tory party’s proposals, highlighting “a number of howlers”, and praising the European Court of Human Rights’ international influence:
“It is right to say that on a daily basis the court is producing decisions of great importance in improving human rights in Europe, which are inevitably ignored here because they tend to concern countries in Eastern Europe.”
In reality, as barrister Carl Gardner blogs in accessible depth here, Grayling’s proposals are more modest than his rhetoric: “I wouldn’t say the plan signifies nothing; but it’s not as significant at it sounds.”
But for sticking to his principles, even though it ended up costing him his government job – and for making the case for human rights and international law from a Conservative perspective – Dominic Grieve is without doubt a Liberal Hero this week.
* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.