Human rights and legal wrongs

Jul 2, 2022 by

by Niall Gooch, The Critic:

You probably haven’t heard of Harry Hammond. It is nearly twenty years since his death in August 2002, shortly after his conviction under the Public Order Act 1986. Mr Hammond’s “offence” took place in Bournemouth in October 2001, when he held up a placard bearing the following words: “Jesus Gives Peace, Jesus is Alive, Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord”. Soon afterwards he was physically assaulted by a large crowd. He was then arrested and charged. No-one who had taken part in the assaults was charged with any offence. At the time of this incident, Mr Hammond was 69 years old.

In 2004 Hammond’s conviction was posthumously appealed, on the grounds of the Human Rights Act. Lawyers argued that his free speech was protected under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), but the High Court rejected the appeal, on the grounds that the proceedings against Mr Hammond had been necessary to prevent disorder. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) also dismissed an appeal.

It is cases like Mr Hammond’s that make me a little doubtful about the seemingly widespread notion that British law’s incorporation of the ECHR, through 1998’s Human Rights Act, is a vital shield for our liberties. Freedom of speech and thought have not noticeably advanced in the UK in the near-quarter century since the HRA became law.

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