- Trevor Phillips says human rights should not be ‘exclusive property of minorities’
- Attacks plan to stop Christian prayers being said before council meetings
By Jack Doyle
Last updated at 7:45 AM on 12th December 2011
Human rights laws are being interpreted in a way that is ‘thoroughly bonkers’ – according to Britain’s own human rights chief.
Trevor Phillips, head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, said the laws had ‘fallen into disrepute’ and were seen as protecting criminals, terror suspects and illegal immigrants at the expense of everyone else.
These rights should not be ‘the exclusive property of minorities’.
Mr Phillips said: ‘Almost every morning I am confronted with examples of how the Human Rights Act is being used which any reasonable person would describe as thoroughly bonkers.
‘Prison service vans that travel 90 miles to take a prisoner 90 yards; paedophiles freed to leer at children in the very parks where they have committed horrific crimes.’
Mr Phillips also attacked plans by secularists to use the Human Rights Act to stop Christian prayers being said before council meetings.
Mr Phillips said he ‘dropped his coffee’ when he heard Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, saying on the radio that he wanted to use the act to prosecute councillors in Devon.
He said the move was ‘nonsense on stilts’.
The NSS has launched legal action against Bideford Council, claiming council meetings should be ‘equally welcoming to everyone living in the local community’ and should therefore be ‘religiously-neutral and secular’.
It had supported former Bideford councillor Clive Bone, who insisted the tradition breached his human right to freedom of belief.
Mr Bone said he was ‘disadvantaged and embarrassed’ when Christian prayers were said in the council chamber. His case is being considered by the High Court.
The NSS has based its legal challenge on the claim that Mr Bone, as an atheist, should not be subjected to religious ritual, and that to do so broke his right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
‘Nonsense on stilts’
However it has emerged Mr Bone stopped being a councillor in May.
Mr Phillips said human rights laws should not be ‘used or twisted to prevent public servants doing things which protect and serve the public’.
Marking Human Rights Day on Saturday, he said such laws were the ‘last line of defence’ for elderly, disabled or vulnerable Britons who are mistreated or neglected.
He added: ‘Human rights should help us better protect vulnerable people who are targeted with violence because of who they are, or who suffer because our police, local councils and courts don’t take their calls seriously or provide enough support to get them justice.
‘But while we must defend human rights tenaciously, it is also essential that supporters of human rights recognise and address the reasons why these great principles have fallen into disrepute.
While we must defend human rights tenaciously, it is also essential that supporters of human rights recognise and address the reasons why these great principles have fallen into disrepute.
‘For too many people nowadays human rights have come to mean the defence of the rights of unpopular minorities – of criminals, terror suspects and illegal immigrants – at the expense of everybody else.’
His comments came as Europe’s human rights chief prepared to launch a fresh attack on Britain for denying prisoners the right to vote.
Thomas Hammarberg, the European commissioner for human rights, also attacked Tory plans for a British Bill of Rights.
Mr Hammarberg will say in a speech tomorrow that any ‘weakening’ the Human Rights Act would encourage autocratic governments in other countries to ignore human rights laws.
And he will attack British politicians for criticising the European Court of Human Rights, saying such comments are ‘ill-informed, populist and xenophobic’.