Posted By: June 12, 2014

The author exposes the nonsense of the police trying to argue that they cannot tackle Loyalist violence “lest it might cause violence.”

Newton Emerson. Irish News ( Belfast). Thursday, June 12, 2014 IT IS becoming clear that we have a serious problem with policing and the ‘right to life’. Defending its handling of the flag protests in court this week, the PSNI said it was not able to ban illegal demonstrations until intelligence pointed to loyalist involvement, raising the risk of lethal violence and thus invoking the right to life.
Last week the PSNI claimed it could not provide information on more than 60 murders to the Police Ombudsman because its “primary consideration” is the right to life, implying informers must be protected from the slightest risk of deadly revenge by their former paramilitary colleagues (including those purportedly stood down or on ceasefire.) These are only the latest two examples of officialdom justifying decisions that seem rather convenient to itself by marrying the human Rights Act with conjectural fatalities.
There is obviously no end to how far this can go when deployed on such a vacuous basis. Pretty much anything involving dangerous people might be potentially deadly, so if you see the answer to that as total risk aversion you can make a right to life case for never doing anything. Of course, this is passive rather than active risk aversion in that the PSNI is not moving against dangerous people. But the well-developed legal precedents around that argument appear to be above a chief constable’s pay grade. The right to life in the human Rights Act, enshrined as the highest principle in UK law, is instead becoming the lowest common denominator where the public sector’s human rights and health and safety excuses meet. Nobody drafting health and safety regulations ever intended that firemen would stand around filling in risk assessment forms while people drowned in duck-ponds before their eyes. Likewise, the creators of the right to life never imagined the PSNI using it to duck tackling violent criminals.
To see how far the right to life has drifted from its original moorings, you need only consider that the first paragraph of its wording in the European Convention on human Rights makes provision for capital punishment. This is hardly surprising, as the convention was a direct product of the Nuremberg trials, which sentenced the nazi leadership to death. The lead drafter of the convention, since adopted almost wholesale into UK law as the human Rights Act, was Nuremberg prosecutor and Scottish Tory MP Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. How rapidly must he be spinning in his grave as a British police service cites the right to life to avoid arresting fascist paramilitaries? Human rights law and its interpretation are not written in post-war stone (the death penalty was nullified by convention changes in 1983 and 2002, for example).
However, the PSNI’s application of the right to life appears to exceed any statutory change or judicial interpretation. Since the death penalty was effectively abolished, the sole remaining exception to the state’s right to life duty is for “the purposes of quelling a riot”. This means the PSNI cannot claim an overriding rights case to facilitate loyalist flag protests for fear of provoking violence.The Human Rights Act understands that upholding the law against the threat of violence is what ultimately protects us all. The European Court of human Rights has rarely ruled on the right to life, suggesting this right needs little interpretation. However, the court has ruled that police must put the right to a fair trial above a conjectural risk to life, meaning that loyalists both can and should be arrested even if they are felt to pose a deadly danger. The court has also ruled that the right to life confers a duty on states to investigate all suspicious deaths fully and promptly. For the PSNI to cite the same right as a reason to stall 60-plus murder investigations is as perverse as it is grotesque. The PSNI’s over-interpretation of the right to life has been associated with outgoing chief constable Matt Baggott. His successor George hamilton may take a different view but if so he will need help to implement it.
Experience shows that once a public body has adopted a rights-based excuse it is almost never reversed. 
In England, the health and safety industry has fought back against official abuse of its work, defending the importance of what it does and of not bringing its purpose into disrepute. Northern Ireland’s human rights industry might take a moment off from its far-left economic activism to perform the same service for the right to life, supposedly the most basic point of its existence.