Martin Hannan: Human Rights Act conundrum

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There is a puzzle occupying the minds of some of Edinburgh’s finest lawyers at the moment, one whose solution will have relevance to the ordinary citizens of this fair Capital.

Yes, I know the doings of our legal eagles are the stuff of everyday conversation locally. Indeed, they talk of little else around the breakfast tables of Burdiehouse and Drylaw. . .

Yet on this occasion, what our Scottish judges, advocates, solicitor-advocates and solicitors do in response to an extraordinary development in Westminster will quite literally affect the rights of every citizen of Scotland.

Politicians will huff and puff, but will not really affect the outcome of what I believe will be a fundamental alteration in the United Kingdom, one that will destroy the UK Supreme Court in London that was imposed on Scotland by the last Labour Government, and one which may yet cause the sort of constitutional crisis which could trigger another ‘end of Union’ moment.

Only qualified lawyers will be able to sort out this issue. In case you haven’t twigged, I am talking about the Conservative Party’s outrageous proposal to axe the Human Rights Act of 1998.

It’s all David Cameron’s doing. No sooner had his side won the referendum than at 7am on 19 September, Cameron was talking of “English votes for English laws” in what was a blatant display of playing Westminster politics with the future of Scotland. I remember my jaw dropping at the sheer blatant cynicism of what he was saying – not least because I agreed with him. As an SNP member I fully concur that only English MPs should decide on England-only laws, but in saying so, Cameron was opportunistically sticking it to his main opponents, the Labour Party and Ukip.

Then he followed it up with the carefully orchestrated announcements of the Tories’ plan to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. In doing so, Cameron and his colleagues are saying they will scrap the law which brought the UK into accordance with the rest of Europe on human rights. A real vote winner among Little Englanders it may be, but the idea is fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is the threat the plan poses to the UK Supreme Court.

For in Scottish terms at least, the Supreme Court sits in judgement on civil appeals, where it replaces the House of Lords as the final court of appeal, and also on Scottish criminal cases which involve ‘devolution issues’ – mainly human rights law.

So if there isn’t going to be any Human Rights Act, that can only mean the Supreme Court will no longer be the final arbiter in the Scottish criminal justice system. And if the Tories mean what they say about Scotland being able to keep its human rights legislation, then it follows that the Supreme Court is toast in a Scottish context. Trouble is, it will need our lawyers to fight the case against the Supreme Court, and they singularly failed to do so when it was established.

Only Scottish lawyers can influence what is happening, so over to you, m’learned friends, and get it right this time. No court in London should decide on Scottish criminal justice and Scotland must comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. End of.


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Driven to despair by state of roads

AS the cost of the trams soars to £1 billion, motorists and cyclists in and around Edinburgh are daily finding the true cost of the nation’s worst vanity project.

Spending all those millions on a half-line of trams and not on roads and lighting repairs has led to the awfulness of potholes and broken lights so well depicted in the pages of the Evening News.

The revelation that the council had its own secret report confirming that repairs were shoddy – if they were done at all – just proved what we all know, that the council just does not ‘do’ roads properly.

Next week I will prove in simple terms why roads and repairs are just not a council priority. . .