Opinion Former Article

Unlock Democracy: Comment on Human Rights Act

Apart from protecting the right to protest, freedom of speech, family life, human dignity, privacy, the right to not be tortured and the right to not be unlawfully killed, what has the Human Rights Act ever done for us?

Unlock Democracy publish a new report today highlighting how the Human Rights Act has protected civil liberties in the UK since its introduction in 1998. 'Protecting rights: how do we stop rights and freedoms being a political football?' by Francesca Klug and Helen Wildbore also examines why the Human Rights Act has become mired in political controversy in recent years.

Adapting her speech given at the Convention on Modern Liberty on Saturday 28 February, Francesca Klug writes:

"Every member of the Council of Europe has not just signed and ratified Churchill's charter - the European Convention on Human Rights - but has, through one means or another, incorporated it into their law. This is what we did ten years ago through the Human Rights Act. Other countries have bills of rights that stand alongside the ECHR or build on it, as we could, of course. There is a forceful and creditable argument for this. But all modern bills of rights are based on the post-war human rights framework. No-one, besides us, is contemplating de-incorporating the ECHR from their law. Why? Because it is there precisely to stop governments from turning rights and freedoms into a weather vane or political football; depending on who is in power or in favour."

Helen Wildbore's extensive appendix lists 23 examples of how the Human Rights Act has been used to defend human rights, ranging from limiting the scope of libel laws to defend freedom of expression and defending the rights of Iraqis unlawfully killed by British armed forced through to defending the rights of disabled people and same-sex couples.

Commenting on the pamphlet, Director of Unlock Democracy Peter Facey said:

"The debate over the Human Rights Act can at times resemble the 'What have the Romans ever done for us?' sketch in Monty Python's Life of Brian. It is frequently abused while the positive contribution it makes to the lives of thousands of people every day is disparaged.

"The Human Rights Act is regularly attacked both for failing to prevent all abuses of state power and for infringing 'Parliamentary sovereignty' when it does. Its critics cannot have it both ways. Equally, people who call for it to be scrapped and replaced by a different Bill of Rights need to explain what rights of the European Convention of Human Rights they are opposed to.

"As Francesca says 'no bill of rights will guarantee freedoms in testing times if people do not remain vigilant.' There is a case for strengthening human rights legislation in the UK and we certainly need to inform the public more about what rights the Human Rights Act actually protects, but ultimately if the public and politicians are not prepared to stand up for rights they will wither."


Note to editors

Unlock Democracy is the UK's leading campaign for democracy, rights and freedoms.

For further inquiries, please contact James Graham (020 7278 4443 / 07966 237550 / james.graham@unlockdemocracy.org.uk)

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