David Cameron, Chahal and Human Rights

The key factor here is the European Court of Human Rights judgement in the Chahal case in 1996… Before the Chahal case, and before the Human Rights Act, if a Home Secretary had considered a foreign national to be sufficiently dangerous, that individual could be deported without undue delay

I came across the text of David Cameron’s speech to the Centre for Policy Studies in 2006 as I researched for a paper on nationalism, security and the Human Rights Act. And although I shouldn’t really be surprised, I was shocked at how openly hostile he was to the Chahal case.

For those who don’t know, Chahal v United Kingdom 1996 is a landmark judgement of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which prevented the deportation from the UK of a Sikh separatist to India. The deportation was stopped as the ECtHR ruled that Article 3 would be violated if Chahal was deported to India.

Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) outlines the prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, and is one of the few absolute rights of the ECHR.

In Chahal, the judges ruled that the prohibition of torture is

absolute terms … irrespective of a victim’s conduct

And this really, really grates our current Prime Minister and his government. So much so that now that they are in power, they have pledged to scrap the Human Rights Act, and threatened to leave the ECHR.

Let’s be clear on this. By citing Chahal as a ‘key’ reason why they may leave the ECHR and scrap the Human Rights Act, our government is declaring that it does not want to be bound by Article 3.

Our government is challenging the absolute nature of the prohibition against torture.

Chahal was a foreigner. By definition, anyone liable to deportation is a foreigner.

Not every right in the ECHR is an absolute. In fact, most aren’t. But the rights that are absolute (such as Article 3 and Article 4 – freedom from slavery) are absolute for a reason and they should apply to everyone, by virtue of their humanity.

The fact that the government disagrees with this just chills me right down to the bone.


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