Theresa May Isn't Supposed to Like the Human Rights Act

01/10/2013 10:05 BST | Updated 30/11/2013 10:12 GMT

Nobody enjoys being stopped from doing things they want to do. And government ministers - who like to think of themselves as being 'in charge' - take to it even less.

So it was no surprise that at this year's Conservative party conference, Home Secretary Theresa May announced that she wants to repeal the Human Rights Act.

People always want to do this sort of thing, removing, one by one, the restrictions on their behaviour: motorists want to reduce the number of speed cameras, rich landowners oppose the introduction of a 'mansion tax'. (Oh look, there's Theresa May again on both counts.)

Of course she wants to expunge the Human Rights Act. It constrains her freedom of action, limits the decisions she can take, and frustrates her will. The thing is though, that shows it's actually working like a charm.

The European Convention on Human Rights was written - with Britain in the driving seat, it should be pointed out - in the late 1940s and was absolutely designed to frustrate government ministers' wills. It was a direct response to the atrocities of the Second World War, and was intended to prevent anything even vaguely resembling the totalitarian evils of the Third Reich from ever again materialising in Europe.

It's supposed to stop things, not just 'big things' like genocide but also, perhaps even especially, government actions which may be small in scale but are enormous in their impact on the lives of those affected.

And yes, it must be annoying for the politicians who get overruled. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights found that Turkey had violated the rights of a pregnant woman by allowing her to bleed to death when she couldn't afford medical treatment. I suppose the Turkish health minister wasn't too happy about having to go to the effort of reforming his country's hospitals.

Similarly, the Russian authorities can hardly have been pleased when judges in Strasbourg found them guilty of abducting a suspected criminal and flying him to Tajikstan (a non-Convention country) for the sole purpose of placing him beyond their jurisdiction.

And, doubtless, Theresa May was disappointed when the Court found that it would be illegal for her to deport Abu Qatada to a country where he would face an unfair trial.

But it is ridiculous for national leaders to portray themselves as victims of human rights legislation, or to imply - as barrister-blogger Adam Wagner caught Ms May doing in her recent speech - that "human rights make us less safe."

If she never illegally violated people's human rights, she'd never have found herself staring down the wrong end of a ruling from Strasbourg in the first place. The Home Secretary should take a few moments from her busy schedule to remember that her considerable powers aren't part of a computer simulation and actually affect real individuals.

It's entirely true that the Human Rights Act places on Theresa May the additional burden of making sure that her decisions don't unjustly ruin people's lives. But that's the price one has to pay for accepting a £135,000-a-year ministerial post in a democracy.