It seems the Conservative Party’s proposals for a new Bill of Rights, to replace the Human Rights Act, will be announced today – according to Jack of Kent. He reckons he was given the information in circumstances which circumvent any embargo and it is in the public interest to publish them as soon as possible.
Jack of Kent says the new measure will:
- Repeal Labour’s 1998 Human Rights Act.
- Break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights. In future Britain’s courts will no longer be required to take into account rulings from the Court in Strasbourg. This will make our Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK.
- End the ability of the European Court to require the UK to change British laws. Every judgement against the UK will be treated as advisory and will have to be approved by Parliament if it is to lead to a change in our laws.
- Define much more clearly when and how Human Rights laws in the UK are to be applied. This will end the ability of the Courts to decide unilaterally to apply Human Rights laws to whole new areas of public life.
- Limit the use of Human Rights laws to the most serious cases. They will no longer apply in trivial cases (Paul Bernal’s blog has already called this into question).
- Balance rights and responsibilities. People who do not fulfil their responsibilities in society should not be able to claim so-called “qualified rights” in their defence in a court of law.
- Ensure that those who pose a national security risk to this country or have entered it illegally cannot rely on questionable human rights claims to prevent their deportation.
Examples of how the new law will be different include:
- Terrorists and serious criminals who pose a significant threat to the security and safety of UK citizens would lose their right to stay here under Human Rights Laws.
- People who commit serious crimes in the UK, and in doing so infringe upon the basic rights of others, should lose their right to claim the right to stay here under the right to family life. So for example, a foreign criminal, guilty of causing death by dangerous driving and so taking away the rights of another citizen, would not be able to claim family rights to stay in the UK (This seems odd – why would they want to? If they committed such a crime in this country, they would want to get as far away from our prisons as possible; Yr Obdt Srvt has experience of this happening – a court allowed bail to a foreign national accused of causing death by dangerous driving and he skipped out of the country, never to be seen again).
- No one would be able to claim human rights to allow them to step outside the law that applies to all other citizens, for example a group of travellers claiming the right to family life to breach planning laws.
- The right to family life would be much more limited in scope. For example an illegal immigrant would not be able to claim the right to family life to stay in the UK because he had fathered children here when he is playing no active part in the upbringing of those children.
- Limit the reach of human rights cases to the UK, so that British Armed forces overseas are not subject to persistent human rights claims that undermine their ability to do their job and keep us safe.
Looking at the comments attached to the article, one of the most telling comes from Adam Colligan, who writes: “Call me a stupid American, but if your ‘Bill of Rights’ is an act of ‘restoring Parliamentary sovereignty’, you’re doing it wrong. The whole point of codifying rights in a constitutional manner is to prevent parliamentary overreach, not to enable it. This seems to be the sad end of a decade-long process in which the Tory commitment to a British Bill of Rights has swung from a project meant to protect individual liberties — from threats in Westminster as well as Strasbourg — to one meant to strip them bare before the will of the government of the day. Isn’t it telling that zero of those ten bullet points actually conssist of a positive assertion of rights?”
Basic rights, like the right to a fair trial and the right to life which are an essential part of a modern democratic society will be protected, we are told.
But there is much more to the European Convention on Human Rights – which the Human Rights Act enshrines in UK law – than that.
What about nation states’ primary duty, to “refrain from unlawful killing”, to “investigate suspicious deaths” and to “prevent foreseeable loss of life”? (Or do the Conservatives want to get rid of this in order to legalise the deaths of all those inconvenient disabled people who were ruled out of ESA by the new version of the work capability assessment they brought in?)
What about the prohibition on slavery or forced labour? (Mandatory work activity/Workfare, anybody?)
What about the prohibition of the retroactive criminalisation of acts and omissions? (We all know the answer to that – the Coalition’s retroactive Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act runs roughshod over this human right).
What about the right to privacy? (The Surveillance Act provides our answer to that.)
What about the right to freedom of expression? If this Bill of Rights replaces the Human Rights Act, will Vox Political be banned and Yr Obdt Srvt arrested for Thought Crime?
What about the right to freedom of assembly and association? Will this mean the end of trade unions? Will it mean the end of legal political protest?
What about the prohibition of discrimination? What about the right to effective remedy for violations of these rights? Nothing is said about these in Jack of Kent’s summation.
This Bill of Rights should fill you with fear.
Not because of what is being said about it – the stated intention to clamp down on what may be described as “mission creep” and bring human rights legislation in line with the intention (in some areas) should be welcomed.
This is a policy that should be feared because of what is not being said – for the reasons highlighted in bold above.
We may have to take on the responsibility of raising awareness of this, if we are not to lose these important and hard-won fights – forever.
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