Popular lore, unpopular law

- Human Rights Law. First Edition - Human Rights in the UK - Textbook on Civil Liberties and Human Rights. Sixth Edition

May 25, 2007

The Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) is now a prominent feature of the law of the UK. This does not mean that it is uncontroversial. As Richard Clayton recently pointed out, the Prime Minister has several times challenged the value of the HRA, and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. In June 2006, the Conservative Party said it would repeal the Act and replace it with a "British Bill of rights". Such uncertainty has not inhibited authors or publishers. The appearance of these three substantial textbooks demonstrates that the subject is now an integral part of legal education.

None of the authors attempts much analysis of the theory, much less the contested nature of the theory and practice of human rights. Merris Amos has nothing to say on this topic; David Hoffman and John Rowe have a chapter of nine pages on "The idea of human rights", and another of 15 pages on "The history of human rights and the convention". But there is no reference to the critical literature. Richard Stone has just five pages in his introduction on "The meaning of rights", but does refer to the works of Jeremy Waldron, J. M. Finnis, W. N. Hohfeld and Ronald Dworkin.

Amos's book is perhaps the most disappointing. It has adequate descriptions of English case law under the HRA and there are no obvious gaps, but analysis is hard to find and critical comment is almost entirely lacking. Amos does not refer to the scholarly literature and, while her text has an index, it lacks a bibliography. For these reasons it would be hard to recommend it as a text but it could be referred to as an additional resource.

Hoffman and Rowe are experienced practising barristers, and their text has a companion website for regular updates. As well as a comprehensive index it has a useful section on further reading, and the authors' recommended texts on the theory and history of rights. Each chapter concludes with useful and provocative questions, and there is a wealth of critical analysis. This is a lively, well-organised text that can be recommended to students on a number of courses, not simply civil liberties or human rights. Both Amos and Hoffman and Rowe are thoroughly footnoted.

Curiously Stone's book has no footnotes. However, like Hoffman and Rowe, it has an online resource centre, with twice-yearly updates to the text and web links. The chapters do not end with questions, but each has a good selection of further reading. The recommendations are up to date, and will provide a stimulating starting point for independent research. It has a newly written chapter on terrorism and human rights, a topic of crucial importance in current debates on the HRA. Stone is a prolific textbook writer and, although his text is not as lively as Hoffman and Rowe's, it contains much sound criticism and analysis.

In July 2006, after these books had gone to press, the Department for Constitutional Affairs published its Review of the Implementation of the Human Rights Act. It decided that the HRA had had no significant impact on criminal law, and that its impact on counterterrorism legislation was the result of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights rather than the HRA. In other areas it considered that the impact of the Act on UK law had been beneficial. It had not significantly altered the constitutional balance between Parliament, the executive and the judiciary, and had had a benevolent effect on government policy.

But, the review concluded, the HRA had been widely misinterpreted by the public, and had sometimes been misapplied. Too much attention had been paid to individual rights at the expense of the interests of the wider community. This process had been fuelled by a number of damaging myths about human rights. It is to be hoped that these texts will go some way to ensuring that students, at least, do not suffer from such misunderstandings.

Human Rights Law. First Edition

Author - Merris Amos
Publisher - Hart
Pages - 412
Price - £58.00 and £22.00
ISBN - 97818411323 and 33249

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