Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Legal Equality

David Green on the Human Rights Act from the Civitas weblog articulates something that has been nagging at me.

The British have always been keen on their rights, but until recently a right meant an entitlement to be protected against the abuse of power by the government or powerful private organisations or individuals. Today a 'right' is less an entitlement to protection against the abuse of power (a protection we can all share with each other); rather it has become a claim against other people, an opportunity to gain financially or to secure preferential treatment at the expense of others. Rights as 'opportunities for private gain' instead of 'protections for all', has encouraged a 'compensation culture' based on the exaggeration of grievances.
It has also distorted the law-making process into a scramble for preferential treatment for groups who are sufficiently well organised to secure political designation of their victim status. There are already six official categories for preferential treatment (gender, race, disability, religion, age and sexual preference) under the Governments proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

It puts me in mind of a letter from the Fiona McTaggart, a Home Office Minister in the Times last week defending the proposed new law on stirring up religious hatred in which she said:

The same arguments have been offered in debates since the 1960s against provisions on incitement to racial hatred, yet the success of this offence has demonstrated that the right to freedom of expression and the right to live without the fear of hatred need not be mutually exclusive.

I think this reveals a strange attitude. How can an offence be a success?

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