Scrapping the Human Rights Act will allow the state to decide which citizens should have rights

The Tories' plans threaten our power to hold the state to account

 

One of the key pledges in the Conservative manifesto this year alongside commitments on the economy, the EU and housing policy, was a promise to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) and to replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Although this policy was in their 2010 manifesto, they were unable to get it through the coalition government. Now they are trying again.

Last week, the attorney general Jeremy Wright said that he could not guarantee the UK would not pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights, which the HRA enshrines in UK law, under their soon to be announced reforms to the act.

The HRA was brought in by the Labour government in 1998 and at the time the Conservatives voted for the legislation. A decade later, they have changed their minds.

Scaremongering stories from some sections of the press, such as an article in The Sun (which they later had to apologise for as it was factually incorrect) claiming that European judges rule against the UK in 3/5 cases (the real number is less than 1 per cent), mean that the British public have a warped idea of what the HRA does, and how it relates to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

As a country we value the idea that people have certain rights regardless of who they are, and this belief is at the heart of the debate about the HRA. Human rights are essential to our relationship with the state, and the HRA is vital for allowing us to seek justice when we believe these rights have been violated.

Consider the case of Amrit who was placed in residential care on a short-term basis due to mental health problems. While his parents were visiting him one day, they noticed some bruising which no one could explain. Managers dismissed their complaints and they were no longer allowed to visit him.

By using Article 3 (right not to be treated in an inhuman and degrading way) and Article 8 (the right to a family life) of the Human Rights Act, the parents were allowed to resume their visits and an investigation was started into how the bruises came about. In this way, Amrit’s parents were able to challenge the authorities about their behaviour and to make sure he was treated in a way which respected his rights.

There are also other important concerns, such as when it is believed that the state needs to be challenged as it has breached one or several of our fundamental rights. For example, Liberty was able to challenge DRIPA (Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014) on behalf of Tom Watson MP and David Davis MP because they argued that DRIPA was a breach of Article 8 (the right to privacy) of the HRA.

They won the case and the government was held to account for introducing legislation which violated the human rights of citizens.

What is so worrying about the potential scrapping of the HRA is that it sets a dangerous precedent that the state can have the power to decide which citizens have and have not got rights. This erodes 800 years of British history which have slowly led to clear limits on the power of the state on its citizens, as the above cases show.

The government’s final plans for a new Bill of Rights are yet to be announced. However, in a strategy paper last year, one of the aims set out was to limit rights only to the most serious cases. This policy runs the danger of creating tiers of rights where the rights of some people in some cases are worth more than others, destroying the foundation of universality which human rights rely on.

The fight to retain the HRA will be a long and difficult one, but the Labour Party must be committed to it, not only because of our beliefs in equality and fairness but because it is vital to our democracy and acceptance of the universality of human rights.

Sue Hayman is Labour MP for Workington

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15 Responses to “Scrapping the Human Rights Act will allow the state to decide which citizens should have rights”

  1. Selohesra

    Or in other words the British people who elect the British government decide where to draw certain lines rather than some unelected lawyers with political ambitions. If they didn’t come up with such nonsense as prisoners having right to vote perhaps government would have left things as they are.
    We seemed to manage OK for generations before HRA bought in in 1998 so I’m sure we will be OK managing our own affairs again

  2. Kevin Turvey

    You clearly misunderstood that case. It was not about prisoners having the right to vote but the governments decision to introduce a blanket ban. The HRA only guaranteed that UK citizens could get the same ruling in UK courts as thy could expect in Strasbourg, so scrapping it will just mean that more cases get referred to the European Court, increasing the cost to the UK.

    If you are content for the government to pull out of the European Convention, which was drafted by British lawyers in the 1950s, ask yourself which rights you are happy for the government to take from you:
    The right to life (article 2), to be free from torture (3), free from slavery (4), the right to liberty and freedom from unlawful arrest (5), right to a fair trial (6), freedom from retroactive criminalisation (7), right to privacy (8), freedom of religion (9), freedom of speech (10), freedom of assembly (11), the right to marry (12), the right to an effective remedy in the courts (13) or freedom from discrimination (14).
    Ask yourself what sort of government would deny you those rights?

  3. blarg1987

    The problem is not the law, but how we interpret the law, other European countries do not seem to have this problem, which raises the question is it our political masters who are deliberately trying to cause problems and using the legislation as a convenient escape clause?

    What has not been said is what the Bill of Rights will include or remove, it is worrying that it has not been made clear first, and only bee considered after.

  4. Faerieson

    The idea that any British Government of recent decades would not seek to exploit and manipulate such a piece of legislation as a ‘British Bill of Rights’ is absurd in the extreme. The reason these ‘rights’ are currently enshrined in certain safeguards is to ensure that any government will not seek to abuse its own powers. Revoking or altering this bill should not even be possible for any single government.

  5. Mo

    We had a perfectly workable system before the HRA.

  6. Kevin Turvey

    We did indeed. If the Government failed to uphold your rights you went to Strasbourg at great expense to get a judgement. The HRA removed the need to go to Strasbourg by guaranteeing you could get the decision in the UK. Seems to me we have a more workable system with the HRA.

  7. Kevin Turvey

    I find it worrying that the government are suggesting that they would scrap the HRA but stay in the European Convention on Human Rights. What would be the point of that? These legal incompetents clearly don’t understand the absurdity of that position.

  8. evanprice

    The author is not a lawyer, although she is a member of the Justice select committee. She ignores the fact that the remedies for Judicial Review of Government and local government decision making predated the HRA by quite some margin. There are real problems with the HRA; an example surrounds the ‘right to privacy’ that has effectively been created and which successive Governments had previously refused to create.

    In addition, most of the convention rights were rights that existed by statute or in common law before the HRA came into force.

    While, on balance, I do not agree with the Conservative policies on the HRA and the Convention, the arguments against those policies are not assisted by hyperbole and polemic dressed up as rational argument.

  9. Douglas Andrew Town

    The problem is not the Human Rights Act but the legal aid cuts of 2013 together with the enormous fees charged by human rights lawyers which mean that legal aid is practically unavailable in many constituencies.

  10. RoughSleeper

    “ask yourself which rights you are happy for the government to take from you: The right to life (article 2), to be free from torture (3), free from slavery (4), the right to liberty and freedom from unlawful arrest (5), right to a fair trial (6), freedom from retroactive criminalisation (7), right to privacy (8), freedom of religion (9), freedom of speech (10), freedom of assembly (11), the right to marry (12), the right to an effective remedy in the courts (13) or freedom from discrimination (14).
    Ask yourself what sort of government would deny you those rights?”

    That is a great précis to make people aware of what is at stake.

    There have been numerous abuses of HR, against Prodemocracy & HR campaigners, whilst we had the HRA, without it, it would be no holds barred.

    ‘On the street’ Gulags for anyone that dared to raise their head above the parapet, until we were all subjections of the state.
    .
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    (8.8944 x 10K hours expertise, Boots on the ground, 3706 Days, @ 1.5165 pence/day)

  11. Sue Dockett

    A Bill of Rights decided by the powerful and where the powerful determine who shall receive those rights is not a Bill of Rights but a Bill of Privilidges which can be withdrawn if you don’t toe the line.

  12. Sue Dockett

    If UK remains within the EU or the EEA it has to remain in the convention.

  13. slamdac

    In a democracy it is up to the majority to decide what, if any, the rights of the minority are. Parliament is supreme. It enacted the Human Rights Act and it is within it’s gift to repeal the act.

  14. andagain

    There is no way the government can write and enforce the law, and NOT decide what legal rights people have. That is what “writing the law” means.

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