The Conservative plan for a ‘Bill of Rights’ has been made public by David Allen Green (@JackofKent) here.
I’m sure there will be detailed analyses of it by people far more expert than me – but there was one particular thing in the proposals that drew my attention. The idea is to:
Limit the use of Human Rights laws to the most serious cases. They will no longer apply in trivial cases.
So what counts as trivial? Who decides what is trivial? This may seem like a trivial question, but it really isn’t, particularly when you consider the nature of human rights. What is trivial to one person is far from trivial to another – so who it is who makes that judgment, and on what basis, is critical. As someone who works primarily in the field of privacy, this is an issue that comes up all the time. Those who invade privacy often consider those invasions trivial – and don’t understand why other people complain about this. The ‘nothing to hide’ argument often hinges on this – only ‘bad’ people are bothered by privacy invasion, because the impact on other people is ‘trivial’.
Another example has come up in the last few weeks, with the conviction of Dave Lee Travis for indecent assault. There were a number of articles in newspapers (such as this one by Rosie Millard) suggesting that what he did was, effectively, trivial. The woman whose breasts he squeezed was, effectively, accused of making a mountain out a molehill in complaining. By most accounts it wasn’t trivial for her – she certainly didn’t think so. Whose view takes precedence? Who decides when things are trivial?
It’s not a trivial question. It matters – and if the upshot of the Conservative Bill of Rights is that decisions like this are made by the government, the ‘little people’ – the people that human rights are particularly needed to protect – are likely to be given short shrift. That isn’t a trivial matter.