Why is our Human Rights Act important?
Our Human Rights Act protects every one of us – young and old, wealthy and poor, you and your neighbour.
Our Human Rights Act has already achieved so much. It’s held the State to account for spying on us, safeguarded our soldiers, and supported peaceful protest. It’s helped rape victims, defended domestic violence sufferers, and guarded against slavery. It’s protected those in care, shielded press freedom, and provided answers for grieving families.
Its protections are the most fundamental – those we should all enjoy, because we’re human.
Think about it. Which of them would you go without? The right to life? The right not to be tortured? The right to a fair trial?
Would you really be happy if these basic freedoms weren’t properly protected?
Because that’s the threat we face.
For years, our Human Rights Act has been under threat from being repealed and replaced with a so-called British Bill of Rights. And in recent months, even our membership of the European Convention on Human Rights has been in question.
This would weaken the rights of everyone, meaning less protection against powerful interests.
Can we really trust political elites to decide when our freedoms should apply?
It's our Human Rights Act. Don't let them take it away.
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Here are just a handful of people who have benefited from our human rights protections, as featured in our Save Our Human Rights Act campaign films.
JANET ALDER - Janet's brother Christopher was unlawfully killed in police custody
Janet’s brother, Christopher Alder – a former paratrooper, decorated for his service – was assaulted during a night out with friends. He hit his head, and was taken to hospital. The police visited him as a victim, but arrested him after his behaviour deteriorated. After a five-minute journey in a police van, Christopher emerged unconscious with his trousers to his knees.
He was dragged into Hull Police Station, where he led for 11 minutes gasping for life. With nearby officers watching, chatting and joking, he choked to death on the custody suite floor. In 2000, an inquest delivered a verdict of unlawful killing – the jury concluding Christopher might have survived with police assistance.
But none of the officers faced any criminal or disciplinary penalty. So Janet turned to our human rights framework. As her case preceded our Human Rights Act coming into force, she had to take it to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. As a result, her fight took 13 long years.
The Government fought her all the way – before finally admitting violations of Articles 2 (the right to life); 3 (no torture, inhuman or degrading treatment); and 14 (no discrimination).
Clearly, had our Human Rights Act been in force at the time of Christopher's death, the Government would never have been able to deny Janet the justice she so deserved for so long.
SHARON HARDY & KHRISTINA SWAIN - Sharon and Khristina's sister Anne-Marie Ellement was tragically let down by the Army
Sharon and Khristina's sister, Anne-Marie Ellement, had always wanted to join the British Army. She loved her job as a military policewoman, and believed in justice. In 2009 she reported that she had been raped by two colleagues – also Royal Military Police officers. Other military police officers investigated, but no charges were brought – a decision which devastated her.
Anne-Marie was not believed. She was bullied by other soldiers, who called her ‘skank’; ‘liar’; and ‘the girl who cried rape’. She was transferred to a new unit, but the bullying continued. In October 2011, Anne-Marie took her own life.
A very brief inquest was held, which did not examine any of these matters properly. Following a Judicial Review, brought by Sharon and Khristina, relying on Article 2 of our Human Rights Act (the right to life), a fresh inquest into Anne-Marie's death was held in February 2014. It delivered a damning verdict, underlining the need for reform of the military justice system.
Two men have now been charged with the alleged rape of Anne-Marie – again thanks to our Human Rights Act. The original investigation was severely lacking and was not independent – the RMP investigated the RMP. You do not need to be a lawyer to understand the dangers of such a lack of impartiality.
PATIENCE ASUQUO - Patience was a victim of modern slavery
Patience was brought to the United Kingdom as a domestic worker and a nanny. For two-and-a-half years, she was abused physically and mentally. She was never paid, or given time off, and her employer withheld her passport. Eventually, with the help of a neighbour, Patience managed to escape – only to be confronted with an uninterested police force, refusing to take any of her allegations seriously. No effective investigation was carried out, and Patience’s employer was not even interviewed.
Thanks to Article 4 of our Human Rights Act, no slavery or forced labour, officers were forced to investigate on Patience’s behalf, and her employer was eventually prosecuted – although not for slavery or forced servitude, as they still were not offences under English law.
Thankfully that has now changed, and there is a new modern slavery offence now on the statute book – thanks in part to our Human Rights Act.
Without our Human Rights Act, Patience might never have had that opportunity for the police to reopen the case. Thanks to our HRA, the police realised they had made a mistake; wrote an apology letter to Patience; and promised to train the police to look into similar cases to hers more carefully.
JENNY PATON - Jenny's family were spied on by Poole Council
In 2008, Poole Council received an anonymous tip-off that Jenny and her family were lying about living in a certain school catchment area. For that the family became ‘surveillance targets’. The local authority saw fit to subject them to covert James Bond-style surveillance, using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
For three weeks officials sat outside their home, making notes and taking photographs – and even tailed Jenny, and her partner Tim, as they drove her children to school. The family had no idea they were being spied upon – until the surveillance was revealed at a meeting with the Council’s Children and Young People’s Department.
When the family quizzed Council officials about their rights, the meeting was promptly ended. Jenny was asked to leave – and told quite clearly that these were the powers that the local authority had, and that they were going to use them. She was stunned that practically any Council official – with less than a few hours training in surveillance techniques – could just hop into their car and start tailing the family.
The Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that, in Jenny’s case, Poole Council had acted outside its powers and breached Article 8 of our Human Rights Act, the right to a private and family life. Had it not been for our HRA, she might never have won her legal fight.
MARY - Mary was unlawfully detained in the UK following years of harrowing abuse in the DRC
Mary* is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where her father was killed for alleged links to opposition rebels. In 2009, after being threatened, she fled to Belgium. She was mistakenly processed as seeking asylum but returned voluntarily to the DRC, believing it was safe.
In 2012, Mary was abducted by men calling themselves security officers. She was held for weeks and subjected to regular gang rape and torture. She was tied up and beaten; and detained naked with four other women – two of whom died from wounds inflicted while being raped. She was left in the same room, with their bodies, for days.
Eventually Mary managed to escape. She left the DRC and arrived in the UK in November 2012. When the Home Office discovered she’d been processed as an asylum seeker in Belgium, they decided to try to remove her there – but no directions for removal were set. In March 2013 she was taken to Yarl’s Wood. No-one who’d met her, or assessed her medically, was involved in the decision to detain her.
Mary was put on suicide watch and monitored by male officers. This distressed her, following her ordeal, and she developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The Home Office wrongly claimed that she hadn’t cooperated fully or proved her identity, accusing her of lying about what happened to her. Thanks to our Human Rights Act, the Home Office cancelled her removal and processed her claim for asylum here in Britain.
Mary’s removal was never “imminent” and she should never have been detained. But she was held at Yarl’s Wood for more than six weeks. Her pre-existing mental health problems worsened as a result. Using our Human Rights Act, we’re now seeking a declaration she was unlawfully detained under Article 5, the right to liberty.
*Mary is an alias. We have not used her real name in order to protect her identity
Tell me more about our Human Rights Act
Our Human Rights Act is a statement of basic values and law for us all to unite around.
After the horrors of the Holocaust, British lawyers helped draft the European Convention on Human Rights. The Human Rights Act brings that Convention home, by incorporating its freedoms into our own law.
Those freedoms include the rights to life, to a fair trial, to protest. They are at the core of our democracy and require the State to take practical steps to protect people whose rights are threatened by others.
Thanks to the Human Rights Act, grieving families – like those of Cheryl James and Anne Marie Ellement – have found answers. Disabled people like Jan Sutton have used the Human Rights Act to challenge their care arrangements. State bodies like the police have been held to account for their failings.
In the 2017 Conservative manifesto, the Party promised to review our human rights laws once the Brexit process concludes.
It seemed like a temporary halt in calls to repeal our Human Rights Act. But no sooner had we celebrated this victory, the Prime Minister threatened to rip up our human rights laws. We won’t rest until our rights and freedoms are safe for future generations.
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Pledge to Save Our Human Rights Act
In response to the Queen's Speech in May 2016, a diverse coalition of more than 130 of the UK’s most prominent organisations – ranging from religious and professional bodies to law firms, unions, environmental charities and the families of terrorism victims – publicly committed to oppose any attempt to repeal the Human Rights Act.