The government (more specifically the Conservative party) has proposed that a ‘bill of rights’ be drawn up in response to the problems they say were caused by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) delaying the extradition of known terrorists from the UK.
The plan is to scrap the Human Rights Act, withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, and introduce a new ‘Bill of Rights’ (very American).
Firstly, we need to clarify the situation. The ECHR are not the problem. The recent problems with extraditing high-profile known terrorists were caused by the government (Theresa May) failing to ensure all legal requirements were in place for the hearings. Even though the government had more than enough time to prepare their case, they failed to ensure basic undertakings that extradition would not result in the person being tortured in the country the government wanted to send them to. A very basic human right – whether or not you agree with it in each particular case, it is an important principle that applies to all of us.
The fact is that if the government had prepared properly in line with ECHR directives those known terrorists would have been extradited a lot quicker.
But instead of taking responsibility and making sure the process was completed in a proper and timely manner, the government has ‘passed the buck’ – effectively placing themselves (in their collective mind-set) above the law which is a fundamental part of a fair and just society (as far as it can be).
The government can not choose the parts of human rights legislation it wants and ignore the rest. This will result in legislation that is strongly biased toward the government’s own agendas and may result in a highly unfair system which can be manipulated to suit individual or collective wants.
If you were to be extradited the same human right to be extradited to a place where you would not be tortured would apply. Under the government proposals, if you were accused of a serious crime (regardless of guilt or innocence) you could be sent to a county where you could be tortured (think about the revelations about torture by the United States and other so-called civilised societies). If you were unable to afford extremely high legal costs the chances of you fighting extradition would be very slim and your future sealed.
The European Convention on Human Rights was established in response to atrocities during the Second World War, and was designed to stop the thing the government wants to do – potentially abuse human rights when it suits a government’s purpose without any checks and balances in place.
It is a myth that the Convention allows criminals to do as they wish and prevents governments from acting in the interests of its citizens. For every part of the Convention there are exceptions which governments can use to ensure citizens are protected – PROVIDED the government in question adheres to basic criteria and principles.
For example, Article 10 provides the right to freedom and expression and information – subject to conditions/restrictions that are “in accordance with the law” and “necessary in a democratic society”:
“Article 10 – Freedom of expression
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
As we can clearly see, although everyone has the right to freedom of expression under Article 10, there are legal conditions that can be imposed in specific and reasonable circumstances. It is very clear that if freedom expression may harm others then a government can take appropriate measures to curtail the right.
Every article of the convention has exception clauses in place which means governments have a great deal of APPROPRIATE freedom, even, Article 2 – the right to life.
The Convention is also designed to protect the basic rights of citizens in countries where the judiciary may or can be influenced by the government. In the UK, although the judiciary are supposed to be independent of politics, it can be influenced indirectly through the appointment of officials ‘sympathetic’ to government agendas. The judiciary are required to uphold the laws set by the government – they have no choice. So if the government introduces oppressive legislation the judiciary have no choice but to enforce it.
If the government were to have this kind of power – which is what the Conservatives are seeking – then they could do anything they wanted without being accountable. At the current time, the threat of ramifications for governments who breach human rights prevents many potential abuses. It also gives citizens an avenue to pursue if their human rights have been breached by officials – even though it is a long and difficult process.
We also need to keep in mind that the Convention has a long history and time to make necessary changes to ensure it is as fair to governments and citizens as it can be. All of the articles have been tested in the ECHR, resulting in mature and modern legislation.
With such an extensive and fair human rights framework in place one could think that any reasonable government would embrace it on behalf of their citizens. It places very fair obligations on citizens and governments to ensure a balance between democracy and the needs of governing a country.
Now we come to the question of why the UK Conservatives want to abolish all connections with the Convention and introduce a ‘bill of rights’.
It would make the UK government the supreme legal power, being able to decide what constitutes a breach of human rights and what does not.
The government (Conservatives) do not like their decisions being overruled by the ECHR, or rulings made by the ECHR which are in conflict with the Conservative agenda. One of the most recent conflicts was a call by the ECHR to give prisoners voting rights in elections.
The ruling of the ECHR has wider implications. It sent a clear message to the government that the government can not pick and choose who it allows to vote. If that were the case (as it could possibly be under the Conservatives ‘bill of rights’ proposal) then the government could place restrictions on any sector of society to ensure voting was in their favour.
It is highly likely that refusing prisoners a right to vote was a tactic to remove a large number of voters who are likely to vote for parties other than Conservative – considering that the majority of the prison population come from poor and working class backgrounds. A Conservative attempt to manipulate the voting system for their own means.
The deportation of people to the United States is also restricted by the Convention. Britain can not extradite someone accused of a serious offence to a state that still has the death penalty unless there are agreements that the United States (or any other country with a death penalty) will not seek the execution of the person. Similarly, as in the case cited at the beginning of this article, Britain can not extradite someone to a country where they may face torture unless agreements are in place that the person will not be tortured which satisfy the conditions of the Convention. (You can read more about extradition on Liberty’s website)
The proposed ‘bill of rights’ is being drawn up by lawyers acting on behalf of the Conservative party and has attracted cross-party criticism.
Conservative party members who have criticised changes to human rights law include William Hague (the former foreign secretary), Dominic Grieve (the former attorney general), and Kenneth Clarke (former minister without portfolio). Unsurprisingly, all of the aforementioned critics of the ‘bill of rights’ have been moved during Cameron’s recent ‘re-shuffle’.
Dominic Grieve described the changes as a “legal car crash with a built-in time delay”, according to the BBC, which also reported that William Hague, who lost his job as foreign secretary this week, has expressed doubts.
Grieve also said “It seems to me that one has to think very carefully about what the consequences are in deciding that you can cherry-pick the obligations that you are going to accept. Whilst it may be perfectly possible to disregard them you are creating a degree of anarchy in the international order that you are trying to promote.”
The Conservatives coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, oppose such radical reforms. Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem justice minister, told the Today programme: “As a matter of policy for the UK it is in our interests – the interests of every single citizen – that we should keep the Human Rights Act, that we should make sure that we continue to be subscribers to the convention and that human rights at the highest standard should be enforced in this country and across the rest of Europe.
“If we think Strasbourg has got it wrong the present supreme court is clear – we are entitled to say to Strasbourg we take into account what you say but we don’t think you have understood the implication of this in our country and please therefore think again.
“So the present arrangement is a dialogue – that is the phrase used by the president of the supreme court – between the UK supreme court [and the ECHR]. And the UK supreme court does, in the end, have authority in this country. But we don’t think the principle of having a European-wide standard for human rights is complicated. We think it is a very good thing. Otherwise, how can we tell Ukrainians and Russians that they have got to uphold human rights if we don’t do so ourselves?”
The Conservative party lawyers who have drawn up the bill of rights have reportedly acknowledged that the changes could lead to Britain’s expulsion from the 47-strong Council of Europe. It oversees the European convention on human rights.
(Source: The Guardian)
The Human Rights Act covers most of the articles in the Convention and gives legal redress within the UK. Under the Conservatives proposals the Act would be scrapped in favour of their own ‘bill of rights’ with no redress for citizens.
Deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, has also been highly critical of the Conservatives ‘bill of rights’ proposal, stating during an interview with LBC “The real significance of this week’s Conservative party reshuffle was nothing to do with gender balance. It is all to do with the death knell of the reasonable internationalism of people like Ken Clarke. The headbangers have now won. They are now, in effect, saying that the Conservative party will turn its back on a long, long British tradition of upholding human rights across the world.”
Clegg went on to say “…you have now got a much more extreme view taking root in the heart of the Conservative party.”
The ramifications on the daily lives of ordinary citizens if the Conservatives were to have their way would be devastating. Any semblance of fairness and justice would disappear overnight as the Conservatives (if they were in government) tighten the stranglehold on basic human right which allow us to go about our daily business.
The Conservative has proven that they can not be trusted at all. They have already introduced legislation by stealth that sees the right to appeal a decision to extradite severely weakened by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2013-14, and which would disappear altogether under their ‘bill of rights’.
Some of the rights that protect the ordinary citizen?
- The right to life – protects your life, by law. The state is required to investigate suspicious deaths and deaths in custody;
- The prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment – you should never be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way, no matter what the situation;
- Protection against slavery and forced labour – you should not be treated like a slave or subjected to forced labour;
- The right to liberty and freedom – you have the right to be free and the state can only imprison you with very good reason – for example, if you are convicted of a crime;
- The right to a fair trial and no punishment without law – you are innocent until proven guilty. If accused of a crime, you have the right to hear the evidence against you, in a court of law;
- Respect for privacy and family life and the right to marry – protects against unnecessary surveillance or intrusion into your life. You have the right to marry and raise a family;
- Freedom of thought, religion and belief – you can believe what you like and practise your religion or beliefs;
- Free speech and peaceful protest – you have a right to speak freely and join with others peacefully, to express your views;
- No discrimination – everyone’s rights are equal. You should not be treated unfairly – because, for example, of your gender, race, sexuality, religion or age;
- Protection of property, the right to an education and the right to free elections – protects against state interference with your possessions; means that no child can be denied an education and that elections must be free and fair. (Source: Liberty)
Without the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Human Rights Act which is based on the convention, life could be very different for British citizens at the hands of government.
When we see the draconian policies and attempted oppression of the poor and vulnerable that the current government have been responsible for, we can have no confidence that citizen’s basic rights will be protected or observed.
Time and again the government has proven that its agenda is to protect and increase the interests of the very wealthy and its cronies at the expense of the majority of the British population. They have deceived and manipulated their way through their time in office and have achieved nothing for the ordinary citizen – yet have achieved a lot for their cronies through ensuring lucrative contracts go to ‘preferred partners’, that their ‘friends’ can make billions upon billions of pounds from the destruction of public services, and that the general population have their rights to criticise the government curtailed.
This really is not an organised group of selfish manipulators that should have anything to do with the protection of basic human rights.
Although the current human rights system may not be perfect, overall it does a good job of protecting us from despots and the insane agendas Cameron and his cronies would like to introduce.
If you value what little freedom you are told you have, then common sense will tell you that the proposed changes to current legislation will not be to your benefit by any means.
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