Shock for Shami as Mail learns to love the Human Rights Act

Dec 3, 2012
Nigel Horne

Shami Chakrabarti's stance against statutory press regs makes her the Daily Mail's new best friend

WHOEVER expected Lord Justice Leveson to be such a match-maker? Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg finally discover a common cause (they both want Leveson's findings fully implemented), Hugh Grant and Max Mosley are improbable victims-in-arms, and now comes the most unlikely romance of all: the Daily Mail has fallen for the Human Rights Act, as championed by Shami Chakrabarti.

In an interview with yesterday's Mail on Sunday, Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, dropped the "bombshell" that while she had acted as one of Leveson's six advisers – or assessors – she disagreed fundamentally with his conclusion that a new independent press arbitrator needed statutory underpinning.

"A compulsory statute to regulate media ethics in the way the report suggests would violate the [Human Rights] Act, and I cannot support it," she said. "It would mean the press was being coerced in being held to higher standards than anyone else, and this would be unlawful."

This, of course, was music to the Mail's ears, enabling the paper to write the headline: "His law to gag press is illegal" and to wrap the startled Shami Chakrabarti in its embrace only four months after thundering in an editorial: "Human rights is a charter for criminals and parasites" - an issue so serious that "our anger is no longer enough".

Chakrabarti, appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show yesterday, seemed as surprised as anyone to have become the Mail's new best friend and did her best to distance herself from the presentation of the interview if not the substance of it.

"I did not deliver a bombshell," she insisted to Marr, adding that the political response to Leveson since Wednesday had been "unnecessarily polarised". She actually agreed with the fundamental finding of the report that the press must have a new arbitrator who is independent of editors and politicians. The only point on which she disagreed with Lord Leveson was on the need for statutory underpinning of the new system.

The UK Human Rights Blog, surprised as anyone by the Mail's sudden romance, notes that, "to be fair the Mail has had a slightly more nuanced relationship with human rights than many assume. For example, the newspaper has been at the forefront of important campaigns like that opposing secret trials in civil cases and against the extradition of hacker Gary McKinnon, which was ‘courageously' blocked on human rights grounds.

"But the secret trials campaign has been fought on the basis of ‘civil liberties', not ‘human rights', and the newspaper has certainly been a more frequent critic than friend of the Human Rights Act, and in particular over issues relating to unpopular minorities such as immigrants."

Given that it surely won't be long before the European Court of Human Rights issues another edict destined to infuriate the Mail, the blog predicts only "a fleeting romance" between the paper and the Human Rights Act.

And if Chakrabarti needs reminding of how the Mail treats its enemies, she has only to look at the paper's front page story yesterday about Nick Clegg.

The Lib Dem leader is reportedly "facing questions" about a £12m Department of Education award to Booktrust, a charity which promotes reading among children. The accusation is that Clegg's office asked to have the award to Booktrust fast-tracked just a few weeks after his wife, Miriam, had hosted a reception for the charity.

The report was given only a mediocre show in other Sunday papers – but it made the ‘splash' in the Mail. Surely not because Clegg has publicly backed Leveson to the hilt in his plan to "gag the press"?

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Read more: