Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: How radical Left tries to reshape society using weapon called ‘human rights’

‘Mission creep’ describes how judges are usurping role traditionally filled by politicians, writes Nelson McCausland

Lord Sumption, former justice of the Supreme Court, lectured on ‘law’s expanding empire’
Lord Sumption, former justice of the Supreme Court, lectured on ‘law’s expanding empire’
Nelson McCausland

By Nelson McCausland

Earlier this month, I was a panellist in the annual West Belfast Talks Back event in St Louise’s College.

It was hardly a balanced panel, in that the other panellists were Michelle O’Neill, Senator Neale Richmond of Fine Gael and Dr Jennifer Cassidy, an Irish-born academic, who came in for heavy criticism earlier this year after tweeting a poem about how the British “invaded us, conquered us, robbed us, starved us, and shot us”.

However, the most striking thing about the evening was the content of the questions, both the issues that were raised and those that were not raised.

Throughout the evening, there was a focus on ‘rights’, especially Irish language ‘rights’, abortion ‘rights’ and gay ‘rights’.

These are three ‘rights’ issues that have been taken up by Sinn Fein and in the west Belfast heartland of Sinn Fein it was not surprising to hear them raised. Even Brexit seemed to be a ‘rights’ issue.

Now, the concept of rights is certainly not new.

There was the Magna Carta in 1215 and, in 1689, after the Glorious Revolution, the English parliament enacted a Bill of Rights.

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A century later, on September 25, 1789, the United States Congress passed 10 amendments, which later became their Bill of Rights.

However, what we are now seeing is something very different and it has been highlighted this year in the five BBC Reith Lectures by Lord (Jonathan) Sumption.

Lord Sumption is an author, historian, barrister and former justice of the Supreme Court. He is, therefore, well-placed to consider the interface between human rights and democracy.

His first lecture was about “law’s expanding empire” and he argued that law, especially human rights law, was taking over the space once occupied by democratic politics.

He also argued that judges, especially those of the European Court of Human Rights, have usurped power by expanding the interpretation of human rights law. Indeed, he described it as ‘mission creep’.

So, today, many activists and campaigners, instead of dealing with issues through the traditional political process, seek to circumvent democracy.

They pick an issue, claim it as a right, find some paragraph in the European Convention of Human Rights to hang it on and then go to court.

The matter is then decided by judges and politicians are coerced into implementing what the judges have decided.

The judges of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg have been particularly enthusiastic about “mission creep”.

Even if a ‘right’ is not obvious from the text of the convention, that is not a problem, because they have developed the doctrine that the convention is a “living instrument”.

Just as most living things grow, so, too, does the remit of the convention and the range of new ‘rights’.

Article 8 of the European Convention refers to “the right to respect for private and family life”, but ‘mission creep’ has taken that into issues such as the extradition of terrorists, or the removal of restrictions on abortion.

Remember, also, the way in which Abu Hamza fought extradition to the USA to face terrorism charges. He did it on the basis of human rights law and delayed extradition for eight years.

This nonsense was taken to a new depth by Sinn Fein, when councillor Sean Bateson, the mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, was rebuked for eulogising IRA terrorists.

A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: “The Good Friday Agreement enshrines the right of everyone to commemorate their dead and republicans will continue to remember.”

Of course, there is no such ‘right’ enshrined in the text of the Belfast Agreement, but that doesn’t matter to Sinn Fein.

Just because someone claims that something is a ‘right’ doesn’t make it a ‘right’. We hear today about ‘fake news’. Well, there can also be ‘fake rights’.

Lord Sumption has done us a great service by his series of lectures and it is imperative that they become the start of a genuine and informed public debate about the way in which the radical Left is reshaping society using the weapon of ‘human rights

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