SSCL Annual Lecture & Supper

August 31, 2001

John Sibbald reports on the SSCL annual lecture and supper held on 15 June at the John McIntyre Centre, Pollock Halls, Edinburgh. The speaker was Lord Hope of Craighead. The subject was Human Rights and IT. The full text of his speech is available on the SCL Web site.

Despite the competition from numerous law firm staff parties, and other frivolous inducements, and that the fact that it was a Friday night, over 50 people turned up to hear Lord Hope of Craighead, a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and a Vice-President of the SCL, deliver the fifth annual SSCL lecture on the topic of Human Rights and IT. The lecture and supper concluded the SSCL’s annual programme which had included a series of events on ‘Human Rights and IT’. The evening was very kindly sponsored by the Scottish law publisher W Green.

John Sibbald, Chairman of the Scottish Society for Computers and Law, introduced the speaker and welcomed a number of distinguished guests including the Sheriff Principal of Lothian and Borders, the Lord President, the President of the Law Society of Scotland, the President of the Sheriffs’ Association, the President of the SSC Society, the President of the Society for Solicitor Advocates and the Chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Centre. John conveyed good wishes for the success of the evening from the SCL’s President Lord Saville, and from Harry Small and Laurie West-Knights QC, the SCL’s joint chairmen.

Noting that the jurisprudence on these issues is in a nascent state, Lord Hope concentrated firstly on the underlying issues such as the language and origins of the Convention rights and the relation of these to the changes we are experiencing in today’s world. He explored the new generation of problems and the existing tools to resolve them, concluding that the Convention, with its simplicity of language and adaptability, offers great advantages. It provides a set of principles and should be read and given effect as a living instrument capable of adaptation where needed under the guidance of the Court in Strasbourg.

As a former Chairman of the House of Lords sub-committee that services the Committee on the European Union, Lord Hope was in a special position to review the strengths and weaknesses of recent EU originating legislation. As a judge in the House of Lords and the Privy Council, he was also able to comment with particular insight into such decisions as we now have from these bodies relating to human rights issues. In considering the use of the interpretative obligation in s 3(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998, Lord Hope said that it was his view that while the section allows the judges to interpret legislation in a way that it would not be possible to do by applying the ordinary principles of statutory construction, it does not entitle the judges to legislate. The governing principles are to respect the will of the legislature so far as this remains appropriate and to preserve the integrity of statute law so far as this is possible.

Finally, Lord Hope stressed the importance of bodies such as the Society for Computers and Law becoming involved at the beginning when legislation, either at Westminster, at Edinburgh or in the EU, is being formulated. He urged us to make our views known to the scrutiny committees at Westminster and Edinburgh, and to keep up the pressure of informed argument, concluding that “This will ensure that the best use is made of every opportunity to develop law in the right way both in the courts and in the Holyrood and Westminster Parliaments.”

After a short (it was Friday night) discussion and thanks on behalf of the SSCL and guests by Iain G Mitchell QC, the SSCL Vice-Chairman, there was an adjournment for supper. As is now a well established tradition, the clouds gathered and the rain poured down but, in an equally well established tradition, the guests consumed cold salmon and tiramisu, interspersed with selections of human rights and IT, with unabated gusto.