Human rights law protects us all

By Professor Liz Wicks, Professor of Human Rights Law, School of Law.

The Conservative Party’s proposals to radically revise the legal protection of human rights in the UK are poorly thought out, legally misguided and rather ominous.

David Cameron has promised that a majority Conservative government would repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and refuse to regard itself as bound by adverse findings of the European Court of Human Rights.

Joe Giddens/PA Wire

In most countries around the world, such proposals would be met with outrage but here they have met with some public enthusiasm. It’s quite a feat to make human beings happy to vote for the restriction of their human rights; rather like a turkey voting for Christmas.Repealing the HRA will only remove issues of human rights from the powers of British courts; it will have absolutely no impact on the Strasbourg Court. That is why the Conservatives also want to ignore legally binding Court judgments. This would place the UK in breach of its international commitments. David Cameron says he is prepared to withdraw from the Convention if necessary. The UK would then join Belarus as the only European country not to be a party to this treaty. What message does that send to the rest of the world?Human rights law is often viewed negatively. Perhaps this is because many cases publicised in recent years have involved unpopular members of society: immigrants, suspected terrorists, prisoners. There is a good reason for that. It is the unpopular members of society whose rights are most vulnerable to infringement by an elected government.

Also, a closer look at many of the high-profile cases reveals that there is a lot of misrepresentation of human rights law. Nobody has been allowed to stay in the UK because they have a pet cat, for example, nor is the Strasbourg Court insisting that murderers be allowed to vote.

The Conservative proposals would replace the HRA with a ‘British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities’. This means the government decides which rights to give us, ensures they are sufficiently limited (or in the proposals ominous words ‘clarified’) and links them to as yet unrevealed ‘responsibilities’. The message is clear: if we do not meet our ‘responsibilities’, we do not have any rights.

The Conservative proposals are set out in a paper called ‘Protecting Human Rights in the UK’ but they propose to do the exact opposite. They will make it much harder to challenge the government when it carelessly or deliberately infringes our life, welfare, privacy or freedom. And they will remove all external oversight.

Human rights law protects us all. We should be wary of a government seeking to remove this vital protection, and what it might be tempted to do once the protection has gone.

 

This article was originally published in the Leicester Mercury.

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