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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 May 2006, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Human rights
On Sunday 14 May 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Lord Chancellor

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Lord Falconer
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Lord Chancellor

ANDREW MARR: As we discussed earlier, it's rare to get such an agreement across the Sunday papers.

As the anger and the disappointment this morning about the way that Human Rights Act is operating, indeed endangering public safety.

And it's been cited in cases such as that of the rapist who murdered a woman while on parole. And of course those nine Afghan asylum seekers who hijacked a plane and were then told that they could stay in the United Kingdom.

Indeed, as one of the papers says, that many of them were probably smuggled in, it was a people-smuggling operation and there were funds provided for that.

Well I'm joined now by the Lord Chancellor himself, Charles Falconer. The man at the eye of the storm. Welcome, thank you for joining us.

CHARLES FALCONER: Thank you for having me.

ANDREW MARR: Let's kick off right away with the Human Rights Act. What should happen?

CHARLES FALCONER: I think it needs to be looked at to ensure that it is giving proper emphasis to public safety. We're not leaving the convention. That convention sets out basic human rights that everybody would accept. But there have been too many occasions recently where there is real evidence that something is going wrong.

And the best example of that, I think, is the case of Rice who murdered somebody in Reading having been released from a life sentence and there was an enquiry into how that happened, and the Inspector of Probation said although there were other problems, nothing to do with human rights, one issue he raised was, are human rights arguments distracting people from looking properly at public safety? And we need to be absolutely clear that human rights does not in any way reduce people's public safety. Now how do we get that message across to the people who were deciding things.

I think there are three ways. One, we've got to make it absolutely clear that human rights does not reduce people's public safety. Secondly, we need to make sure that officials, people in authority who are making decisions in the administrative sense, are aware of that. Training, guidance, giving the message. And if necessary, legislation that makes that clear. Not by pulling out of the convention because we've got to keep...

ANDREW MARR: So you won't pull out of the convention. You won't, as some of the newspapers called for, tear up the Act and scrap it. But you might well amend it in parliament to make it clearer to the judiciary here where the balance of probability, that the balance has to lie when it comes to individual rights of prisoners and others, and the rest of us.

CHARLES FALCONER: Yes. This is not about an attack on the judges. This is about making absolutely clear in particular areas, like for example the release of prisoners who might be a danger to society, but public safety comes first. And it's a complete corruption of human rights to say that could get changed by the application of human rights. We've all got human rights as members of the public, not to be put in danger. And the State has got an obligation to protect people and that's an obligation enshrined in the most basic views of the rule of government.

ANDREW MARR: But if something fundamental has gone wrong, as you suggested, and you're not attacking the judges or judiciary, I wonder who you are attacking, and where that went wrong? Was it in the original legislation? Was actually your government to blame for the way this was framed in the first place?

CHARLES FALCONER: Well, I think a culture has grown up in certain places that human rights changes views about public safety. That culture is not one individual's fault but it needs to be checked, it needs to be addressed. I don't think this is a question of blame, I think this is a question of recognising that there is a problem and it needs to be addressed. Not by ripping up the Human Rights Act or withdrawing from the Convention, but making absolutely clear that there is no interpretation of human rights that leads to these results, which everybody would regard as unsatisfactory.

ANDREW MARR: If the Human Rights Convention has caused these problems, has been partly responsible for these problems, why is it so important, why can't we pull out of it?

CHARLES FALCONER: Because we all subscribe to these basic rights. It is vital that we remain in the Convention to remain part of the community of nations and of the community of Europe. If we pull out of the Convention you can't be a member of the European Union. But they express our...

ANDREW MARR: Sorry I thought because it was a separate...

CHARLES FALCONER: ...no, no, it's a condition of being a member of the European Union that you sign up to the Convention.

ANDREW MARR: Oh I see. So you'd have to leave the European Union.

CHARLES FALCONER: Yes. And nobody's just, and equally nobody has suggested these rights are not rights that we all subscribe to. We all agree about liberty, about the right to life, the right to privacy, those issues. And the problem is not a subscription to those rights, it is how it operates in practice.

ANDREW MARR: As you confront this problem what is the balance of likelihood, are you likely to have to legislate again to amend the Act?

CHARLES FALCONER: Well, we'd need to look at each area, for example we need to look closely at what the Chief Inspector of Probation has said about the release of life prisoners. And see do we need to legislate to make it clear, for example, in that area, that public safety comes first.

ANDREW MARR: The judge who was criticised, in effect by the Prime Minister, after the Afghan incident said what, he was just following the legislation?

CHARLES FALCONER: Yes, and this is not about a row...

ANDREW MARR: If he was following the legislation, the legislation must change now mustn't it?

CHARLES FALCONER: Well this is not about a row with the judges, this is about an approach. Of course the judges follow the law, they're bound to do that. If there are misconceptions that are abroad they need to be put right. That's why guidance, training and possibly legislation is the way that you put that right.

ANDREW MARR: I'm trying to find out whether the possibly legislation is probably legislation.

CHARLES FALCONER: No, well I think we need to look carefully at it. The Chief Inspector's report, for example, was only produced last week. But I think it's very important that we acknowledge and recognise as the Chief Inspector has, that in certain areas things are going wrong.

ANDREW MARR: Now, Blair-Brown. What's the date?

CHARLES FALCONER: (laughter) I mean we've had a very important discussion about a difficult policy issue. What this government does is focus on these difficult policy issues and seek to find solutions to these difficult issues like, for example, human rights. Like, for example, pensions.


CHARLES FALCONER: And that's what we should be focusing on. And you go on...

ANDREW MARR: ...just a couple of gentle questions Lord Chancellor. The papers have a sort of fair amount of briefing in them that there is going to be a handover next summer. And that's being discussed that there is a team in place, that Neil Kinnock and other people are involved in doing it. You would know about that, wouldn't you?

CHARLES FALCONER: Let's move on to something else as as far as the discussion about politics because I think you ultimately erode people's faith in politics. All we talk about is this sort of personality issue, when what people want are results in their lives. They want things to change.

ANDREW MARR: But part of the problem is that people don't see the results on this and other issues. It's not that there is the personality stuff over there and there's the serious results thing over here. It's that people have been looking at this government for a while on issues like this and on the way money's being spent in the Health Service and much else and saying we're not getting the kind of crisp delivery and success that we hoped for?

CHARLES FALCONER: And that's an issue I'm more than happy to discuss with you. That's the sort of issue that we should be discussing.

ANDREW MARR: But doesn't the doubt over when the Prime Minister's going, it's a very, very odd situation that we've been in for some time now. Does that not cut across all of that?

CHARLES FALCONER: No, I don't think it does. Because I think most people in the country are concerned about precisely the issues you've just identified. What is happening in the Health Service? Is the extra money we've put on, put in, getting the right results? That's what most people are concerned about. You, on the other hand, are much, much more concerned about the sort of...

ANDREW MARR: ...you've been talking about all sorts of interesting subjects. I'm just wondering if you knew the date and you were prepared to share it with me?

CHARLES FALCONER: I don't, and I'm not.

ANDREW MARR: All right, well that's very straightforward. Thank you very much indeed Lord Falconer.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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