Once again, as I’m sure you’re all well aware, our beloved leaders are chomping at the bit to make changes to our society. They have made no secret of their intention to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. In fact, they selected their target back in 2010, only to have their ambitions stymied by the Liberal Democrats. With coalition partners no longer an issue, they are free to act.
Of course, we had Human Rights before the bill was passed in 1998. According to the UN of course, they are universal, indivisible and inalienable. So, surely as a liberal democracy we shouldn’t need this document?
Well, the Human Rights Act enshrines in law the ability of the UK population to challenge the state on the grounds of Human Rights. In short, it means that if the state or any institution breaks your human rights, instead of travelling to Strasbourg and the ECHR, you can challenge it in domestic courts.
So what about the act have the Conservatives found so offensive? All fingers point towards it being controlled by Europe, as the definitions utilised in the Human Rights Act are living, subject to change at the whim of the judges who sit on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). These unelected professionals sit in Strasbourg, and their decisions set the precedent for the decisions made by our domestic courts. The Tories argue that this is undemocratic, and that the ability to define Human Rights should be returned to the state, in particular to the MPs at Westminster.
When the government includes the likes of Theresa May, whose ‘Go Home’ vans caused such controversy, not to mention a majority who voted against the Gay Marriage Equality bill, this would be a very worrying development.
Other reasons for our need to keep the Human Rights Act are everywhere. The new British Bill of Rights would limit the human rights of those who are not British citizens. This would in effect take our universal human rights and transform them into a privilege granted due to the location of your birth, or the nationality of your parents.
Since these rights are universal and indivisible, this should obviously not be the case.
Secondly, the Human Rights Act is enshrined within the constitutions of the devolved assemblies. There is therefore a risk that a British Bill of Rights may end up applying only to the English, as the devolved nations have control of whether or not they would move to the new system.
Then, finally, there is the issue of Northern Ireland. When the British and Irish governments signed the Good Friday Agreement back in 1998, the treaty included a clause that Northern Irish law would completely incorporate the European convention of Human Rights. In addition, that the courts would have the power to use this law to override decisions made by the legislative assemblies if they were in violation of the convention.
In switching to a British Bill of Rights, and breaking the direct contact with the ECHR, the UK would thus be in breach of the Good Friday Agreement, an international treaty that is lodged with the UN. The replacement of the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights would be a travesty. Human rights are universal, indivisible and inalienable. Now we just have to hope that our government remembers that.