Although easy to miss amid the commotion of Brexit, Britain’s Human Rights Act (1998) is locked in a fight for its life. Besieged by a hostile press and beholden to a government that has pledged its repeal and replacement, its days are almost certainly numbered. It is against this fraught backdrop that Conor Gearty’s On Fantasy Island: Britain, Europe and human rights comes to the Act’s defence. In a spirited and wide-ranging rejoinder to its critics, Gearty restates the case for the Human Rights Act and explodes the myths that have fuelled its unpopularity.
Exploded too are the stifling conventions of legal writing. In opening with a clear-eyed account of the injustices sanctioned by the courts prior to the Human Rights Act, Gearty takes aim against a lecture delivered by John Finnis, emeritus professor at the University of Oxford and one of the storied eminences of modern jurisprudence. Gearty’s gently irreverent treatment of Finnis sets the tone for what is an energetic, conversational foray into law and politics, unmarked by the heavy-handed deference to which lawyers are too often prone.