I read today that the Killer of the head teacher, Philip Lawrence, has successfully appealed against his deportation to Italy (should he be released next year after serving a minimum 12 year sentence) on the grounds that it would breach his human rights.

Naturally, this has raised questions as to the implementation and extent of an individual’s human rights, over and above that of another person, or indeed the wider community.

Many commentators are outraged that a convicted killer should appeal to the ideal of human rights (and win their case) when their own actions have undermined one of the foundations of the entire declaration: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person. Indeed, Philip Lawrence’s own widow has stated that she is, ‘unutterably depressed that the Human Rights Act has failed to encompass the rights of my family to lead a safe, secure and happy life.’

I think there is some merit in such an argument. However, I also feel that the emotive aspects of this debate cloud an issue that has always bemused me with regards human rights legislation: How does one implement the ideal when the upholding of one person’s rights clearly impinges on those of another – irrespective of whether they are a criminal or not?

A case in point would be the fact that the father of an unborn child has no right to insist that the mother carry the baby to full term if she has decided to terminate the pregnancy – or at least that’s how I understand the legal position of this scenario. And that is a sufficiently complex ethical discussion without factoring in questions surrounding the right of the unborn.

This is merely an example that comes readily to mind as it is one that is easily understood and often debated in the public arena.

The point I’m making is this: Clearly, all cannot have their rights upheld at any given moment, therefore, are human rights merely idealistic and provincial, rather than practical and universal?