Yesterday I hinted at the consequences the Bill of Rights proposals would have as regards those who were involved in crime as part of terrorist organisations throughout the troubles in Northern Ireland. The document defines victims in such a way as to encompass anyone who was endangered by their involvement in criminal acts. Thus someone who was blown up whilst attempting to plant a bomb in order to kill others, would be considered a victim under the remit of this proposed legislation.
It seems that in the detail of the proposals for a Bill of Rights lies a clause which would have more direct legal consequences.
“Public authorities may not unfairly discriminate, either directly or indirectly, against anyone on one or more grounds ……. Including …..irrelevant criminal record or conflict related conviction”. (PDF)
You will find the text under the Equality provisions of the report, under clause 2. This wording is opposed strongly by the UUP, DUP, Alliance Party NI and by the Catholic Church. These objections are contained in subsequent pages of the report, but the clause has nevertheless made it into the final recommended text.
Apart from providing a sharp reminder of how unrepresentative the process of compiling this report was, this clause epitomises the type of insidious content, straying far from the human rights remit, which this bill is likely to contain. Firstly this type of clause belongs firmly within the remit of equality legislation.
The rights lobby have been accustomed to justifying the need for this legislation by contending that it would comprise an ‘overarching framework’ of rights. Specifying criteria which public bodies may not use to make decisions is not an overarching framework
Beyond this clause’s inappropriateness within the frame of rights legislation, there is its content. Taking the proposition that there are ‘irrelevant convictions’ and presumably relevant convictions, this clause supposes that any ‘conflict related’ conviction must be irrelevant within the context of an individual’s dealings with public bodies. This is patently not the case. A criminal conviction is a criminal conviction and must be treated as such.