Are human rights just “common sense”? They’re more important than that

In the round-up for 31 May I wrote that I was always very suspicious of appeals to “common sense’, a phrase that I always tend to regard as a synonym for “unexamined prejudice”. Though it was just a throwaway remark, it prompted an e-mail from a reader who said that it had reminded him of Mr Justice “Ollie” Oliphant in Rumpole of the Bailey: “A judge”, says Wikipedia, “whose affectations of Northern bluntness and ‘common sense’ drive Rumpole to distraction.” So, though I’m deeply flattered to be compared, however distantly, with the great John Mortimer’s alter ego, I thought on reflection that a little unpacking might be in order.

In February 2007 the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, used the Harry Street Memorial Lecture at Manchester Law School to launch a Government campaign entitled ‘human rights: common values, common sense’. In the course of ‘Human Rights and Common Sense’ he managed to use the expression “common sense” thirty-five times. Continue reading