If an inquiry were to be launched into the excesses of the dentistry profession, it would not be conducted by a body made up entirely of dentists. You wouldn’t put a team of journalists in charge of the Leveson inquiry. Why, then, was Nick Clegg allowed to appoint a commission on a bill of rights — the body charged with reviewing Britain’s membership of the European Court of Human Rights — made up almost entirely of lawyers, and human rights lawyers at that? Was there ever any doubt that lawyers would argue for more complexity, and a system which protects their power?
Almost every day in government, ministers are told they cannot make decisions because something or other is illegal under European law. It’s become the standard gambit, used to end discussions. Votes for prisoners? This is no longer a subject on which British people have a right to a discussion. Teachers telling pupils to turn out their pockets? It violates the ECHR right to privacy. Deport a convicted jihadi? Sorry, minister, Strasbourg says no. Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary whom we profile on page 12, once tried to win an argument by saying the Prime Minister would ‘go to jail’ if he sought to cut regulation on business imposed by Brussels.
This week it became even clearer that David Cameron’s project for a British bill of rights, which he hoped would repatriate law, is going to end up being a damp squib. A British bill of rights is abhorrent to the Liberal Democrats, so they have cleverly rigged the committee so it will produce a document full of drivel which will be overruled by the European Court of Human Rights at every turn. The sole member of the eight-strong commission who is not a lawyer — academic Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky — resigned in disgust once he realised that the whole enterprise was intended merely to maintain the status quo and keep lawyers’ powers intact at the expense of parliament’s.