Human Rights Act: the battle is still on

Thinkstockphotos-178485797

Proposals to scrap the Human Rights Act were dropped from the Queen's speech – but the threat is still there

Graham Martin's photo

27th May 2015 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

The fight is still on to resist Tory plans to scrap human rights legislation – even though the proposals were dropped from the Queen’s speech this week.

Prime Minister David Cameron instead said his government will “consult further” before bringing forth new laws.

The Tories want to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.

However, civil liberties groups have expressed outrage at the proposals – and there has been a political backlash as well.

It has been speculated that it was fear of a backbench revolt among the Conservatives that led Cameron to drop the plans from the Queen’s speech, which sets out the government’s parliamentary programme for the coming year.

People across the world are fighting for the rights we enjoy in the UK - we must not let politicians take away these hard-won rights

The HRA, which came into force in 2000, brings into UK law all the elements of the European Convention on Human Rights, giving people the right to pursue human rights grievances through the British court system.

It has been used by campaigners against the likes of the bedroom tax and child abuse.

The fact that the government still intends to pursue its British Bill of Rights – even though it has put plans to scrap the HRA temporarily on hold – is “very worrying”, says Amnesty International.

UK director Kate Allen said: “It’s very worrying that the government seems hell-bent on tinkering with or even completely replacing such an important part of our human rights protections.

“Any move to scrap the Act would be a real blow for human rights in this country and around the world.

“Repealing the Human Rights Acts could represent the single biggest roll-back of rights in recent British history.

“Ordinary people across the world are still fighting for the rights we enjoy in the UK – we must not let politicians take away these hard-won rights at the stroke of a pen.”

To date, more than 82,000 people have already signed an Amnesty petition calling for the HRA to be kept.

Professor Alan Miller, chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said: “The commission has long been clear that any changes to our human rights laws must pass a very simple test: do they take us forwards or back?

“While we will examine any legislative proposals in detail, the commission repeats its long-standing concerns about the regressive nature of many elements of previous proposals for a British bill of rights.

“These have included enabling the UK to pick and choose which judgments to accept from the European Court of Human Rights, reducing the scope of human rights laws so that they only apply to the most serious cases, or to particular areas of law, and restricting the eligibility of rights on the basis of nationality or citizenship.

“Any and all of these changes would fly in the face of progressive protection for human rights and would have adverse consequences for people in Scotland.

“The commission has repeatedly highlighted the positive impact of the Human Rights Act on people’s lives in Scotland. From improving standards of care in hospitals to providing redress for the families of soldiers killed in combat due to inadequate protective equipment, the Human Rights Act protects fifteen well-established fundamental rights and freedoms.

“These rights – like the right to life, free speech and protection from inhuman and degrading treatment in care or custody – are minimum standards across Europe, agreed by the UK and other countries in the post-war era as the basic protections needed in modern democracies.

“Changing our human rights laws is of significant constitutional and social importance and should be considered as part of a broad and participative public process. This cannot be rushed. Debates about human rights are not only about matters of law.

“They are about social values, democratic renewal and, ultimately, the recognition and protection of the human dignity of all.”