The government home secretary, Theresa May, has said that the Conservatives would seriously consider leaving the European Convention on Human Rights and would scrap the Human Rights Act.
In her deluded world, May seems to think this would be a good move and something which would receive support from the British public. However, any move to abolish the Human Rights Act and leave the European Convention would be highly dangerous for British citizens.
Current legislation is not perfect by any means, but it is not terrible either. Every day, ALL UK citizens reap the benefits of the legislation as it stands without appreciating the positive impact it has on their daily lives.
The government cites the long legal battle to deport extreme cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan as being the ‘fault’ of human rights legislation. In fact, the process took such a long time because the government didn’t get their act together in the first place to present the case accurately to the European Courts. The government failed to get the assurances needed from the Jordanians at the start of the legal process, which resulted (and rightly so at the time) in the government case failing. This is not the fault of human rights legislation – it is the fault of government incompetence.
In other examples used by the government, human rights has been said to result in difficulties in prosecuting or deporting terrorists and other ‘undesirables’. However, the government have engaged in the rendition of innocent people from the Middle-East for many years – human rights legislation didn’t stop them then.
The European Convention on Human Rights is concise and clear. It is not open to abuse unless the state concerned does not fully implement and follow the requirements of the convention. The convention is also very clear as to when certain human rights may be set aside in specific circumstances. The purpose of the convention is to ensure that the citizens of member states are protected from tyranny and abuse by their governments – not to give criminals carte blanche to do as they please – which is a popular misnomer.
There is nothing in the convention which prevents criminals from being punished or extradited, with the proviso that they will not be subjected to torture or the death penalty.
You can read in-depth information on the European Convention on Human Rights at the website of the European Court of Human Rights.
At an event held by ConservativeHome, May said “When Strasbourg constantly moves the goalposts and prevents the deportation of dangerous men like Abu Qatada, we have to ask ourselves, to what end are we signatories to the convention?” she said. “Are we really limiting human rights abuses in other countries? I’m sceptical.”
The thing May fails to mention is that current human rights legislation is also meant to protect British citizens from their own government in British as well as European courts. The European Court of Human Rights is an independent organisation which offers British citizens some security and a possible route to justice if they fail to get it through the UK court system.
Behind the scenes, the UK government has undue influence on the justice system, as has been demonstrated in several high profile cases in recent times. This can result in disproportionate sentences (both harsh and lenient) being handed out by judges who are ‘sympathetic’ to government ‘recommendations’.
In theory, the UK judicial system is supposed to be free of influence, even from government. However, in practice the system is open to abuse if the government has a strong desire to influence a decision or rule of law. The judiciary impose the laws made by government, and if the government doesn’t like a decision it can change or implement new laws. The government can also change the way the judiciary works. If government does not like a ruling, in some cases it can overturn the ruling – usually to protect its own interests or those of its cronies.
We saw an example of this recently with the government’s work programme. Because the government didn’t like a judicial ruling that went against them, they implemented ‘emergency’ legislation which was applied in retrospect, which effectively makes the judicial ruling void.
May stated that current human rights legislation restricted the ability of the government “to act in the national interest”. No – what the legislation does is restricts the ability of government to abuse its power and act in its own interest.
The government’s stance on human rights legislation has come under attack from senior judges.
At a meeting on the 16th May 2013 of the Human Rights Lawyers Association, Lord Dyson (the second most senior judge in England and Wales) stated that human rights in the UK are under attack, “not least form some members of government”.
Human rights legislation is not about protecting criminals and terrorists. There are examples of how the legislation has protected the rights of British citizens despite government. The legislation has been used to stop elderly couples from being separated and placed in different residential care homes. It has been used to secure accommodation for survivors of domestic violence. It has been used secure the rights of homeless people and people in psychiatric hospitals.
High-profile cases are often miss-reported and sensationalised in the mainstream media.
A decision by the European Court of Human Rights that whole-life sentences breach the convention was reported in a way by some mainstream media that indicated that those serving whole-life sentences would be released at some point. This is not what the court ruled.
The court ruled that to be imprisoned with no review mechanism in place was a breach of the convention. They ruled that those serving whole-life sentences should have their sentences REVIEWED no later than 25 years after being imprisoned. The ruling DID NOT say that whole-life prisoners should be released. In fact, until 2003 the UK had a system for reviewing prisoners on whole-life tariffs, but this was removed in a change in law.
The majority of human rights cases are never covered by mainstream media, with most of them being settled in UK courts by judges using the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
For example, in 2002 a widower who was denied bereavement benefits took his case to the European Court of Human Rights and won his case (although by the time the case was decided the law had changed). In several actions against local councils, low paid female council workers won the right to equal pay based on human rights legislation. In Lancashire, Lancashire County Council were found to be in breach of several human rights Articles over the treatment of two brothers who ended up in council care.
Unfortunately, miss-information and propaganda had led to generalised public apathy concerning the importance of human rights legislation to their lives. Often perceived as something which is abused by ‘foreigners’ and ‘criminals’, the protective layer human rights legislation gives every person in their day-to-day lives can become diluted in the fog of sensationalism.
If human rights legislation is removed by the government, the consequences for the WHOLE of the UK population will be dire.
The government have proven that they cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of a fair and equal society where basic rights are be protected. The government are continually looking for ways to restrict freedoms and control the population. At present, the only thing preventing many of these travesties taking place is human rights legislation.
Over the past few years we have seen a significant rise in the number of government initiatives and policies which attempt to bring the UK population into a state of total subservience to the government. From the exposure of covert (and possibly illegal) surveillance programmes to the implementation of social engineering through welfare reforms and the bedroom tax, to name just two examples.
The UK government has proposed that existing human rights legislation is replaced by a Bill of Rights, but as yet there has been little progress on developing a fair and implementable bill.
Perhaps a problem some people may have with existing human rights legislation is that it grants rights equally, regardless of any other factors. We live in a society where those who are seen as wrongdoers are considered not to be entitled to equal treatment as far as their human rights are concerned. Whether that is right or wrong is immaterial and is something we have to accept as being part of protecting our own human rights.
If we want our fundamental rights to be protected then we have to accept compromises which will mean that there will be the occasional human rights case which seems to take advantage of the system, but when looked at in perspective, these high-profile cases are rare.
The alternative is for the UK government to have total control over all aspects of human rights and become answerable to no one for their actions. It is (perhaps) not the fear of torture that UK citizens need to be concerned about, but the subtle and gradual erosion of protection from a regime which has an agenda other than the welfare of the population as a whole.
If there are no checks and balances in place, the government will look after government, regardless of the cost to its citizens.
You have seen this demonstrated in recent times. Despite significant public protest, the government has introduced legislation which is on the verge of oppression and abuse of the vulnerable and disabled through welfare ‘reforms’. They have attempted to bring in controlling legislation which significantly restricts the freedoms of UK citizens, including the Justice Act which permits virtually uncontrolled use of secret courts, and the Data Communications Bill, which would allow uncontrolled surveillance. This is not a government that should be trusted with anything – let alone something as important as basic human rights.
Perhaps you think that the UK had an acceptable human rights policy before the introduction of legislation and adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights. The problem with this perception is that many of the human rights violations by government never made it into the public domain. These cases covered a variety of areas, from obtaining evidence by torture to the abuse of rights of trade union members and non-members, which were only stopped when human rights legislation was applied.
Government propaganda about the effect of human rights legislation on judicial autonomy are not to be believed because it composes of high-profile sensationalism based on a very small number of cases and downright miss-information and lies.
If the current government were permitted free reign, the people of the UK would find themselves in a police state very, very quickly with no hope of reversing the situation. They is no route back if you enter the belly of the beast.
Human rights legislation in the UK is surrounded by smoke and mirrors which detract from the reality of the benefit of legislation to everyone. There is a good section on the Liberty website which examines some common human rights myths.