RightsInfo: 50 human-rights cases that transformed Britain

I wrote in April about the launch of RightsInfo, a new initiative from Adam Wagner, the founding editor of the UK Human Rights Blog. Following a crowdsourcing project (to which I contributed), RightsInfo has now published its full set of “50 human-rights cases that transformed Britain”, accompanied by a fantastic infographic that enables readers to dip into and find out more about those cases.

Many of the bitesize propositions for which those cases stand — e.g. “you can’t imprison people without charge”, “openly gay people can serve in the armed forces” and “hospitals must protect vulnerable patients at risk of suicide” — will be, for many people, hard to argue against. But of course, as ever, the devil is in the detail. Many of these cases involve the striking of a fine — and often far-from-straightforward — balance between conflicting sets of interests, most obviously the rights of the individual on the one hand and the sometimes-competing interests of the wider community on the other.

A crucial fault-line within the debate about human-rights protection in the UK — and within the increasingly prominent debate about judicial power more generally — concerns the extent to which questions such as these should fall for judicial decision, and the extent to which they should be the preserve of democratically elected and accountable politicians. RightsInfo provides an invaluable resource for anyone who wishes to argue that human-rights law equips courts to do good things (provided that, in the first place, decisions of the type sketched above are considered to be good ones).

But it occurs to me that those who wish to make the case for the retention of the Human Rights Act 1998 (or something like it) will have to go further, by making out not only the argument that judges have made good decisions under the Act, but by going on to establish that it is and ought to be the place of judges — as distinct from Parliament — to determine such matters. That argument is an inherently contestable, as opposed to a self-evidently correct, one. However, those who wish to make it will doubtless find RightsInfo’s “50 cases” a useful starting point. More generally, it is refreshing — and necessary — to find an accessible, not to mention beautifully presented, counterpoint to the misleading treatment of human-rights law that is commonplace in the popular press. As debate about the future of the Human Rights Act heats up, RightsInfo will, I am sure, make an invaluable contribution to levelling the playing field by resourcing those who seek to challenge the caricature of the Act that has taken root in popular consciousness.