European human rights should be cherished: PSNI chief

George Hamilton made his comments at a meeting about human rights in Belfast
George Hamilton made his comments at a meeting about human rights in Belfast

The chief constable of the PSNI has said Europe-wide human rights protections should be cherished.

George Hamilton said he could not understand how anybody could argue with key parts of the European Convention on Human Rights like protection from inhumane or degrading treatment or torture.

Some in the Conservative Party support replacing the Human Rights Act which enshrined the convention in UK law with a new British Bill of Rights.

Mr Hamilton said: “It seems to me a pretty good idea for any democratic society to uphold for its citizens a right to a fair trial, prohibition from any inhumane and degrading treatment, prohibition from torture, to uphold the right of freedom of expression; freedom of religion is not a bad thing to have either.

“All of these rights and freedoms are things that I struggle to understand how people can argue with them in a progressive, liberal, democratic society.”

The convention has legal force in the UK through the 1998 Human Rights Act.

Entitlements guaranteed under the accord are included in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Hamilton was attending a meeting about human rights in Belfast.

He said leaving the EU did not mean withdrawing from the convention. That law is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which is not an EU institution.

The senior officer said the convention had not been imposed on the UK by Europeans but was advocated by the 1950s British Government and legislators who wanted to protect people against unfettered state power. A British prosecutor of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg was a high-profile supporter.

The chief constable said he found it ironic that a media or political message was being conveyed that the convention had been forced on the UK.

“That is not how I perceive it, I actually perceive it is as a tool, as a framework, as an instrument of upholding fundamental rights and freedoms that are actually, never mind the decision making model for me as a police officer, it protects me and my family and my community and I think that is something that needs to be cherished.”

He could not comment if the UK Government or another legitimate authority decided to remodel the human rights framework and call it something else.

The senior officer added: “The European Convention of Human Rights is not an EU issue.

“It is much deeper and it is seated back in the 50s rather than anything to do with the common market or the European Union and I hate to see this narrative that because the UK are opting out of Europe there will be some sort of removal of the European Convention and the power of the European court.”