Page last updated at 19:22 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 20:22 UK

Human Rights Act defended by DPP

DPP Keir Starmer
DPP Keir Starmer says critics of the act are "ill-informed"

The Human Rights Act is not a "criminals' charter", the Director of Public Prosecutions has said.

The rights enshrined in the act were "basic, fundamental, and so much part of our way of life that we take them for granted," Keir Starmer said.

The law does protect the rights of victims of crime, he said in the public prosecution annual lecture in London.

The Conservatives want to scrap the act, saying it puts the rights of criminals before those of communities.

'Common myths'

The DPP says he wants to "lay bare the lie that suggests the Human Rights Act is a criminals' charter".

He said: "Contrary to what appears to be a widely-held, but ill-informed, view, human rights do not magically appear when a suspect is stopped on the street; or is arrested; or is charged; or is prosecuted; or when they appear in court..."

He told the audience that the fundamental rights of a suspect such as the right to a fair trial were clear.

"The rights of victims are more subtle, but no less fundamental for that," he said.

Mr Starmer said the act ensured the state had mechanisms in place to protect people from crime.

It would be to this country's shame if we lost the clear and basic statement of our citizens' human rights provided by the Human Rights Act on the basis of a fundamentally flawed analysis
Keir Starmer, DPP

"These are rights that spring from the Human Rights Act, not rights that somehow conflict with it. And, critically, they are now enforceable in court."

And he countered criticism the system needed to be "rebalanced".

"Such talk usually emerges after a particularly questionable decision which receives undue notoriety… usually this has a thread back to the Human Rights Act… of how a victim's rights have been trampled on by an almost Orwellian spectre of European-inspired legislation," he says.

"It would be to this country's shame if we lost the clear and basic statement of our citizens' human rights provided by the Human Rights Act on the basis of a fundamentally flawed analysis of their origin and relevance to our society."

The DPP says common myths about the Human Rights Act should be dispelled:

  • "A police force unable to circulate a photo of a wanted, dangerous and violent criminal because it might breach his Article 8 rights to privacy? My advice - go ahead - it is essential to protect the public."
  • "Unelected judges can now tell Parliament that their laws need not be enforced? No - judges cannot strike down legislation."
  • "Human Rights mean school teachers cannot enforce discipline at school? No - it is domestic legislation - section 548 of the Education Act 1996 - passed 2 years before the Human Rights Act - that banned corporal punishment in schools."

The Conservatives have said they will abolish the act if they are elected, replacing it with a British Bill of Rights which they say will "enable the UK to rebalance laws in favour of public protection."

Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said: "The Human Rights Act is not the only way to implement human rights in Britain.

"The Conservatives believe a Bill of Rights will deliver a better balance - and it is a matter for Parliament to decide."



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