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Judge Explores the Origins of Human Rights

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The 44th Marcus Tillotson lecture was given by Immigration Judge Roy Battersby, an Old Boy of the School, on the subject of the Magna Carta and the foundation of Human Rights.

Headmaster Philip Britton welcomed pupils, parents, Governors and staff to the Boys’ Division Great Hall for the occasion. He reminded everyone that, as part of the School’s 100 and 500 Anniversary celebrations in 2015 and 2016, a series of talks has been arranged to comprise the 2016 Tillotson Lecture. These began with the ‘Living a Life of Faith in Society’ panel in February and continued with a number of talks by Old Boys: the recent Prizegiving address by architect Robin Partington who touched upon the importance of the School’s buildings; this academic talk by Roy Battersby representing pupils’ and alumni’s responsibility for society; and a final address from Chris Eatough to take place in November which will connect with the active life of the School.

His Honour Judge Battersby and the subject of his address were introduced by Vice Captain Rohit Bagewadi, who recalled not only the well-celebrated School anniversaries, but also the recent 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.

This was indeed the starting point of Judge Battersby’s talk: he spoke of 2015 as a significant date not only for the School, but also as the opportunity to mark the earliest origins of Human Rights and the rule of law, as these concepts were influenced by the Magna Carta. The ideas enshrined in that document are as important today as they were in 1215. He talked about some of the specific articles of the Magna Carta, in particular Articles 39 and 40 – that no one can be punished in any way except by the lawful judgement of equals or by the law of the land, and that justice cannot be sold, delayed or denied – which he said were the precursors to the 1950 European Convention of Human Rights.

He also mentioned that 2011 was the 50th anniversary of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which was created to ensure that the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust would never happen again. He explained that this Convention defined the term ‘refugee’ for the first time as a person forced to leave their home with a well-founded fear of being persecuted should they return. He further clarified the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker.

However, he went on to discuss the fact that although these Conventions gave hope to those forced from their homes and countries, they did not stop the atrocities from happening around the world and did little to stop persecution. He then ran through a long list of countries that refugees have fled from since 1951, and the reasons people had for leaving, whether it be war, civil conflict, religious persecution, violence against women or ethnic cleansing. He also talked about why refugees come to the UK, including the strong appeal of the UK’s generous interpretation of Human Rights laws.

In addition to these general remarks, Judge Battersby also recalled his work as an immigration judge and spoke of some of the specific cases that were brought before him, describing some reasons that individuals gave for claiming refugee status.

Touching briefly upon political matters, he noted that the recent Brexit vote does not bring to an end the UK’s Human Rights commitments as the 1950 European Convention of Human Rights is not a creation of the European Union or Parliament. He explained that these rights belong to all people regardless of their nationality, and briefly looked at five of the articles in particular. He first mentioned Article 2, the right to life which is protected by law, and Article 3, that no one is subject to torture or degrading treatment or punishment. Of particular interest in the context of his talk were Articles 5 and 6 – the right to liberty and security, and the right to a fair trial – both of which are linked directly to the articles of the Magna Carta that were mentioned earlier.

Finally, Judge Battersby spoke of Article 8: respect for private and family live, and the fact that there are certain matters into which the state has no right to intrude. This article has been the subject of much controversy due to immigration and refugees, and cases being analysed in the press.

He said that it is sometimes difficult for people to accept that there is no one right interpretation, and that the meaning of articles of the Convention of Human Rights, and indeed laws, can change depending on the context. He quoted a line spoken by Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and said that judges and lawyers understand this very well: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” In reference to criticisms of the Convention of Human Rights, and particularly Article 8, he explained that the vast majority of these are down to misunderstandings of judicial interpretations. He further noted that the European court has found the UK to be wrong in only 0.6% of cases brought against the country, so much of the criticism is unfounded.

He mentioned briefly the temptation to fight fire with fire, and the opinion of some that the torture of suspected terrorists should be allowed in spite of Article 3 of the Convention of Human Rights. However, he concluded that the state must not “fall into the trap set by terrorism for democracy” by doing so.

In closing his talk Judge Battersby looked to the future and questioned whether the UK will break from the European Convention of Human Rights to create its own Bill of Human Rights. He said, “Critics of the status quo must answer two questions: which articles of the Convention of Human Rights would you discard, and would you rather live in a country where those rights are not protected by law?”

This final enquiry made a thought-provoking end to his fascinating talk, which had touched on so many important contemporary issues.

Vice Captain Nat Roohan offered a vote of thanks to Judge Battersby for providing such an interesting Tillotson Lecture, which no doubt sparked a huge number of conversations over tea and coffee in the Riley Centre afterwards.

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Old Boy Judge Roy Battersby with Headmaster Philip Britton

Old Boy Judge Roy Battersby with Headmaster Philip Britton

Judge Battersby gave a fascinating Tilloton Lecture on the subject of the Magna Carta and the Foundation of Human Rights

Judge Battersby gave a fascinating Tilloton Lecture on the subject of the Magna Carta and the Foundation of Human Rights