I am beyond shocked by David Cameron’s pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act if he becomes Prime Minister at the next election. The United Kingdom was one of the first countries to give formal consent to the European Convention of Human Rights in 1951, when it was passed through Parliament, championed by Sir Winston Churchill.
We live in a democracy that is loosely based on utilitarianism, i.e. the belief that the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people should be the guiding principle of those that rule us.
I know certain cases ruled upon by the European Court of Human Rights have upset many people because they seem overtly wrong. For instance, the idea that prisoners can vote.
The media seem to think that once a person goes to jail that they should never be permitted to be a citizen again upon their release. Yet more than half of all those currently in jail will be free within five years. Why, upon their release, should they not have a voice with which to speak with a Member of Parliament? If they should be permitted to talk with an MP, then why shouldn’t they have a right to choose whom that MP might be. Simply missing the election because of being in Jail shouldn’t prevent them choosing their MP.
Being holier than thou over this appears irrationally prejudicial. But I do agree other odd cases that have won in the ECHR need to be vetoed in some way. Nevertheless, to do away with human rights could certainly have an impact on the liberties we currently enjoy, without even being aware of it. I wanted to go through the Acts with some discussion on how these Articles might impact our lives if they are taken away and not replaced with a closely fitting alternative under the Tories proposed, “British Bill of Rights.”
This is the agreement by the Signatory Countries that they will secure the rights of their citizens as stated in the following Articles within their jurisdiction.
The Right to Life will disappear. At the moment everyone’s right to life is protected by law. When this is not in place the State can exterminate its citizens if it so chooses as Pinochet did. On September 11th in 1973 General Pinochet seized power of Chile in a bloody military coup. In almost two decades of his dictatorship he became notorious for his abuse of Human Rights. Under his rule, more than 3,200 people are known to have disappeared or been executed, with thousands of others being detained, tortured or exiled. Article 2 prevents human rights abuses on this scale happening in Europe.
The media often reports on alleged British involvement or complicity in torture and rendition sometimes conducted by the USA. In 2012 a criminal investigation into M16 officers involvement of torturing Libyan dissidents under Tony Blair’s leadership, was carried out. More recently, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the US Senate has produced a report on torture of suspected terrorists. Malcolm Rifkind has requested access to redacted passages of the report, which might detail the UK’s part in breaking Article 3 of the Human Rights Act. More commonly, in countries outside of Europe, appalling acts of torture still happen. The UK has always prided itself on having the highest standards of human rights. I’m afraid all this would slide without Article 3 in its current form, and incidents of the UK becoming involved in torture would become more frequent.
Between 1971 and 1975 the authorities in Northern Ireland exercised a series of extrajudicial Powers of Arrest, detention and internment of terrorist suspects. Arrests and convictions during this time included The Guildford Four, Maguire Seven and the Birmingham Six, all later proven to have been wrongly convicted. Although the claims of torture and police brutality they endured were not brought before the European Court of Human Rights, many more were, including the ‘Hooded Men Case’, where it was found that five interrogation techniques were used on suspects. This included forcing detainees to remain standing ‘spread eagled’ in stress positions for hours on end, putting hoods over their heads, subjecting them to loud continuous noise and deprivation of food, drink and sleep. The European Court of Human Rights held that these techniques caused, if not actual bodily injury, at least intense physical and mental suffering, and were humiliating and degrading. As such, the UK was held to be in breach of Article 3 by allowing its security forces to use such techniques.
Abolition of this Human Rights Law would mean the State could force those they wanted to work for nothing. Everyone knows slavery is wrong, but abolish human rights and what’s in place to prevent the State enslaving a section of its citizens to work for nothing should it so choose? Modern day slavery takes many forms and occurs in many more countries than you could imagine. The victims are the most vulnerable in society, women and children forced into prostitution, migrants trapped in debt bondage, and sweatshop or farm workers, usually foreign nationals, who are paid little or nothing. This does not just happen in third world countries but also here in the UK. Without the protection of Article 4 it’s worrying to imagine how the money hungry could exploit British Citizens even more in this way.
This means the State shall be forced to justify depriving a citizen of their liberty and entitling citizens to take proceedings against the State by which the lawfulness of his or her detention shall be speedily decided. Without Article 5, the police could arrest and detain a suspect for however long they choose. This Article also ensures that if you were to be arrested, the charges against you would be explained promptly in a language you understood, and a trial held within a reasonable period of time.
This Article also protects the rights of people in hospital, and in care homes particularly people who have mental health problems.
The State already wants to do away with juries in some cases. It also allows certain evidence to be concealed from a defendant using Public Interest Immunity (PII). This is acceptable if it is used correctly, but if the police/lawyers choose to abuse PII without article 6, the fairness of a trial would undoubtedly be lost.
This seems an obvious thing, but without human rights, the State could simply punish a citizen if it wanted to, without them having broken any laws. For example, because he or she is part of a minority group. UK Human Rights Laws have already been eaten away by terrorism bills so that suspects can be held in prison or under house arrest for many years without charge, or knowing what the evidence against them is. This erosion to civil liberty is already having an effect on our society and without Article 7 it will get worse.
David Cameron often speaks about his love of family life, but without Article 8 the State could choose to interfere with a citizen’s family unit. Either someone British born or an immigrant could be affected for example, if as a family unit it might not fit with the States ideals. Without this Act in place, prisoners could be denied the right to have contact with their families The impact of this on the children and relatives of those in prison would be huge, not to mention hindering the rehabilitation of prisoners. Currently, prisoners are denied photographs with their family. The prospect of a child growing up without photographs of its father or mother could result in unimaginable upset to the child and subsequently cause untold damage to that child’s sense of identity.
Article 8 also covers areas such as respect for your sexuality; the right to make choices for yourself; respect for private and confidential information; the right not to be followed or recorded by the Government; the right to have confidential, unlimited communication with others; and the right to control how information about your private life is shared. These are all vital and basic rights that everyone should have.
Without human rights the State may choose to punish people whose thoughts and beliefs they don’t agree with. Citizens might no longer be allowed to choose how they behave based upon their conscience. For instance, being a vegetarian could be banned by the State. Furthermore, the State could abolish certain religions and force its citizens to practice a religion that it has chosen. The Spanish Inquisition shows how things can go so terribly wrong. The Spanish Inquisition held some parallels to Nazi rule. It was a group within the Roman Catholic Church, which tried to suppress heresy. Baptized members of the Church who held opinions contrary to the Catholic faith were systematically tortured and executed, simply for following a different religion.
The media should beware. No human rights, and citizens can’t speak about what they choose; therefore the press can be completely controlled. Freedom of Speech allows us to voice our opinions, no matter how strong, verbally or in writing. We can use social media to express ourselves, such as Twitter, Facebook, via E-mails or through public speaking, to name a few. Fortunately there is a limit on this, and freedom of expression does not, allow you knowingly to reveal information given to you in confidence, nor can you say anything that would threaten public safety, national security, or undermine the legal system. This means however strongly you feel on an issue, you cannot for example, encourage people to commit crime, incite a riot or display expressions of racial or religious hatred.
Without our human rights there will be no right to march against the issues people believe in and no gathering together of like-minded people. If the State doesn’t like it, then if it chooses, without human rights, the state will prevent it from happening. Earlier this year, thousands of Solicitors and probation workers staged numerous walkouts and marches in protest at the Government’s decision to cut £215 million out of the annual criminal legal aid budget, cuts that would affect every UK citizen. These people protested under the Freedom of Assembly and Association Law.
It seems such a basic human right, but without it, the State may choose to stop any type of marriage. For example, it could prevent UK Citizens from marrying those from other countries.
At the moment, the State is held accountable, and there’s always a method by which citizens can seek remedy if the State gets it wrong or fails its citizens. There may be certain things done by the State that are above the law. Perhaps medical negligence, for instance, the NHS might become exempt from official scrutiny. In the UK, people who have had their convictions overturned are seldom entitled to compensation. They’re innocent enough to be released but not innocent enough to be compensated by the State.
Particularly shocking are cases where there’s police misconduct but no compensation is offered.
Another example might be that if a prison officer damaged the personal property of a prisoner but there is now no recourse for the prisoner. This might be okay with some people, but the same applies on the outside. If the police damaged your property for whatever reason, maybe they crashed through a water feature in your garden while doing a car chase, there would be no way you could recoup compensation.
All our rights and freedoms contained within the Human Rights Act must be protected and applied with no discrimination. This simply means that the Human Rights Act is there for everyone, irrelevant of age, sex, race, colour, language, religion or sexual orientation.
Derogation in Time of Emergency; Restrictions on Political Activity by Foreigners; Prohibitions on Abuse of Right and Limitation on use of Restrictions on Rights. These four rights set out when and why certain human rights can be modified or set aside, such as when a country is at war, or during such times that emergency situations threaten the lives of the nation.
David Cameron thinks it’s a vote winner to tell British Citizens that they no longer have these rights. Maybe you agree with him, but at least if you’ve read this you will have had the opportunity to think about it a little more. Human rights are often essential to the most vulnerable members of our society or those who are in minority groups. From my perspective, I often see and feel how extremely vulnerable prisoners can be, and more so recently without Legal Aid to help them fight injustice.
Important thoughts for us all this New Year.
Content Research for Jeremy Bamber by Yvonne Hartley.
Developmental edits by Sarah Hanover. Proof reading by Heidi Hawkins.