Liberty Intact

by Michael Tugendhat, Oxford, £50

An unforeseen consequence of the 1998 Human Rights Act, which brought the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into English law, is that people feel that the rights granted in the Act are in some way foreign. Indeed, our current Prime Minister’s sole intervention in the referendum campaign (when home secretary in April 2016) was to call for the UK to remain in the EU but to leave the ECHR.

Leaving aside the gift that that would be to Messrs Erdoğan and Putin (“If the ECHR is not fit for the UK, how can we possibly remain bound by a system which systematically seeks to limit the powers of the state?”), the premise on which much of the rhetoric against the Human Rights Act is based – ie, that it is foreign – is false for two reasons.

The first is that a principal draftsman of the ECHR was Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Viscount Kilmuir), and the second is that the rights in the ECHR are, for the most part, also to be found in English common law.

Fyfe was a Scot but one whose path through life had been forged by the struggles of World War II when he served as solicitor general and, above all, as prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, where he cross-examined Göring to great effect.

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