The mixed blessings of a conservative election victory are now becoming apparent. For campaigners at least there are new issues to challenge, new debates to be begun. And one of them is fast rising to the top of the list of injustices that are about to be brought upon us.
The government wants to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA).
Yes, you read that right. The very same law that allows ordinary people to hold the State to account for abuse, mistreatment and negligence. The Act that has defended victims of rape and domestic violence and those in care, given bereaved families long-sought answers, safeguarded our soldiers, protected journalists’ sources and helped countless individuals gain justice.
David Cameron and Michael Gove feel we’d be better off if we axed an Act that’s held the powerful to account over and over again, and instead allowed those with a vested interest in keeping their power unchecked to limit when and to whom human rights apply.
If you’ve been paying attention to party spin recently, you’ll have seen our HRA suddenly rechristened “Labour’s” Human Rights Act. So it’s worth clearing up at the start that it was passed in 1998 with overwhelming cross-party support and Tory leadership endorsement. It was a long-held ambition of the Society of Conservative Lawyers.
Yet now the new justice secretary is promising a “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities”, to “restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK”. And if he can’t get Council of Europe agreement that the Bill is a legitimate way of applying the European Convention on Human Rights (which the HRA enshrines into UK law), they say they’ll withdraw from Winston Churchill’s post war legacy too.
At stake are no less than the hard-won freedoms earlier generations paid for in courage and blood, and which we now hold in trust. It takes “selling the family silver” to a whole new chilling level – but at least we’ll be company for military dictatorship Belarus, the only European country not signed up.
The Human Rights Act is a powerful tool. It brings home fundamental, universal rights we all have as human beings, and allows us to challenge authorities if they violate them.
If you’re lucky you won’t ever need to use it in a court. But it’s protecting you all the same.
It’s an invisible safety net for all of us, working silently to ensure our rights are respected, and a crucial shield and sword for the most vulnerable: from women fleeing domestic violence to older people in care homes and the disabled seeking proper support.
Attacked by some politicians, misreported by the press and misunderstood by many – it’s time to spread the message that human rights matter.
— Amnesty Int’l NI (@AmnestyNI) April 30, 2015