James Calder

James Calder

When the Conservative Government decided not to include repealing the Human Rights Act in this year’s Queen’s Speech, I did feel a sense of some relief. For so many reasons, as I will outline here, the Human Rights Act offers the British people a number of absolutely essential protections and safeguards against the worst excesses that a Government can inflight. However, my sense of relief has been tempered by the fact that this seems to be a temporary victory – with the right wing tabloids screaming sensationalist headlines such as the Daily Mail saying it is opposed by ‘Left Wing Luvvies’. It seems to be only a matter of time until the Tories bring this up again, and we need to bring a stronger understanding of the positive effects this Act has on our society.

The origins of the Human Rights Act come from the 1950s, when Winston Churchill helped lead the way in setting up the European Convention of Human Rights. Britain was the first to sign this, and ironically it was a Conservative Government that helped lead the way in setting up this ground-breaking agreement. A few years later, the European Court of Human Rights was established.

It was only in 1998 that British judges and the Government had to take into account the decisions of the Court when it came to lawmaking. This came after the Human Rights Act, which ensured that the human rights of British residents would be guaranteed. The law ensured when legislation was made, it had to take into account the decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights, and judges had to take this into the account in legal cases. As such, in effect a constitutional guarantee of human rights was made in the UK.

However, opposition for the Human Rights Act has come in the form of an authoritarian, right wing nature.

One of the key charges that has been made is that the Human Rights Act places limits on national sovereignty. It is a sad state of affairs when national sovereignty is put as more important than our rights. The fact the Government has to take into account our Human Rights, which the ECHR for designed for, to me is something to be celebrated. If that means a small sacrifice in national sovereignty on what are ultimately matters which are not going to seriously impact on national security, I think that this can only be a good thing. We cannot simply think that the Government will always take a benign interest in safeguarding our rights; the ‘Snoopers’ charter can testify to that. Democracies can and will abuse human rights if there is no constraints, shown by the actions of the USA at Guantanamo Bay.

The other charge, that it helps foreign criminals, is a deeply sad excuse to try and distract from the bigger issues. While the Human Rights Act has been used in some cases by foreign criminals, this argument has only applied to small number of situations. The vast majority of foreign nationals who are ordered to be deported are deported. However, more fundamentally, are criminals not human as well? Should we not ensure, for instance, that those who face being tortured in their home country are safe? Churchill has stated that societies attitude towards its criminals is the measure of “the stored up strength of a nation.” These are wise words, and we should take this into account.

Fundamentally however, there are so many arguments in favour of the Act. Currently Britain leads the world when it comes to the promotion of Human Rights. There are so many countries where people do not have the same freedoms as we have, and it has taken centuries for us to develop these rights. The Human Rights Act is part of that process, and not only is repealing it a regressive and reactionary measure, but it sends the signal internationally to those countries that do not respect Human Rights that their actions are acceptable.

The Human Rights Act also gives our citizens the right to take their case to the British courts. Before this Act, in the situation where the British state was breaking our human rights, we would have to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This made things more difficult for the individual and the state. Now for the most part, our courts can handle the situation, and we can ensure our rights are respected without the same difficulties as before.

The Human Rights Act ensures that the British State has to act in a fair and just manner. In so many ways, our civil liberties are under attack at the moment. The Tories want to scrap this Act and bring in the ‘Snoopers’ Charter to spy on citizens. The SNP are bringing in equally Orwellian legislation in Scotland such as the Super ID database and their centralising agenda. Human Rights are a cherished part of our society, and we must continue to campaign hard to keep them safe.

James Calder