The Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights are British rights, drafted by British lawyers.
I will admit that their interpretation by certain courts at certain times has caused me concern, but the point is that the concern comes from the interpretation, not from the HRA or the ECHR themselves.
The HRA and the ECHR were forged in the aftermath of the atrocities of the Second World War and fought for by Winston Churchill. They are designed to place public authorities in the UK under a strict, non-negotiable obligation to treat people with fairness, equality and dignity.
That said, they are not immutable. There is active dialogue between UK domestic courts and the European court of human rights, and new case law is made as a result of this dialogue. As long as the original wording of the protocols are respected underlying law can and does evolve.
Frequently the HRA and the ECHR have been all that has stood in the way of injustice, most usually inflicted on the individual by an over-powerful state. At different times, they have:
- held the state to account for spying on us,
- safeguarded our soldiers
- supported peaceful protest
- helped rape victims
- defended domestic violence victims
- protected those in care
- shielded press freedom
- helped provide answers for grieving families.
Much of the Tory hysteria, I suspect, has been caused by inaccurate reporting down the years. Most often the HRA hits the headlines in connection with the deportation or otherwise of terrorists. For example:
20-May 2010: The Daily Telegraph reported that a court had ruled that a pair of terror suspects with links to Al Qa’eda will remain in the UK after judges ruled it would breach their human rights to deport them because their lives would be in danger if they were sent back to Pakistan. MYTH
No-one would argue that the state should not be able, after a fair trial, to deprive dangerous or harmful individuals of their liberty. However, most people would also agree that it is not acceptable to send people into situations where they may be tortured. Human rights do protect all individuals from torture, and if the government knows that individuals may fact torture or death in their own home countries, they have an obligation to protect them.
Calls for the Human Rights Act to be scrapped following this decision did not take into account that the same decision would have been reached whether or not the Act was in force. The UK has signed up to numerous international treaties including, the Convention Against Torture and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights – all of which expressly forbid the government, and courts, from allowing people to be deported to face torture.
If, on the other hand, you suspect a court has been hoodwinked by clever suspects or lawyers, well, that’s a different question and not something for which the HRA is responsible.
Daily Express 14 May 2008 : ‘A top detective has attacked the way the Human Rights Act is being used by killers and rapists to try to give themselves a better life.’ MYTH
There is nothing in the Human Rights Act that prevents the prosecution of offenders. In fact, it’s the opposite: both the Government and the courts have a duty (under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights) to take steps to protect the public and courts sentencing criminals have to take into account the severity of the crime and the danger to the public. It wouldn’t make sense to have a Human Rights Act that doesn’t protect all people, especially victims.
25 February 2005 The Guardian: Law Lords reject return of corporal punishment THIS REPORT GOT IT RIGHT
In February 2005 the Law Lords did reject the extraordinary claim from a group of Christian head teachers, teachers and parents of four independent schools that the corporal punishment of children is central to their religious beliefs and that to prohibit this in private schools is a violation of their right to practice their religion. The Law Lords found the ban on corporal punishment to be legitimate and proportionate.
To walk away from the HRA and ECHR would remove at a stroke any moral authority we have when we engage with other countries. Belarus really is the only other European country not to sign up to the HRA. – hardly a bastion of liberal democracy.
These are fundamental rights we all have and they define how we treat our citizens and offer our citizens protection from the state. We should celebrate and protect them, not seek to tear them down.
More information is available from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.