Support from all quarters for HRA at Liberty awards

Posted by Sabina Frediani on 23 November 2011

Last night leading figures from the worlds of law, media, civil society, politics and the arts came together at London’s Southbank Centre for Liberty’s annual Human Rights Awards. It proved to be a truly humbling and uplifting evening. Inspiring human rights heroes from all walks of life were honoured for their efforts at the ceremony, eloquently hosted with a gloss of comic sheen by the brilliant Marcus Brigstocke.

The occasion marked the coming to an end of an eventful year for human rights. At Liberty we’ve watched people across the globe bravely fighting for fundamental freedoms and we’ve proudly celebrated some long-running campaigns coming to fruition here at home. But on the other hand there was also the aftermath of the summer riots and the infamous “catgate”; timely reminders that attacks on the Human Rights Act will keep on coming and that the fight to defend it goes on.

The awards themselves are held in recognition of the fact that we’re far from alone in this fight. And last night showed that we have some exceptional and inspirational people on our side for the battle ahead.

Lieutenant-Colonel Nicholas Mercer was handed the Human Rights Lawyer of the Year accolade for his courage in the face of denial of human rights abuses by British forces in Iraq. Accepting his award, he told the audience that the Human Rights Act has changed our world for the better – and called on certain sections of the media and politicians to stop slamming the legislation. The HRA “shines a torch” on areas “we are afraid to go into”, Lt Col Mercer said, labelling the Act a “force for good”.

The “Close to Home” Award went to campaigner Janis Sharp for her passionate fight to save son Gary McKinnon from unfair extradition to the USA. In her acceptance speech she called the reward an “incredible honour” and reminded us that our rights and freedoms must be protected by the Government; not eroded.

And John Hendy QC, from Old Square Chambers, who was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award, underlined how important it was for trade unions to get behind Liberty and help us defend the Human Rights Act.

This moving display of such wide-ranging support for our defence of the HRA spoke volumes. Backing for the legislation from a former senior British Army officer, a mother and an experienced barrister goes to show that the protection of this small bundle of rights and freedoms is not of interest solely to the legal elite or the criminal few, as we’re so often told. The Human Rights Act is vitally important – now more than ever – to absolutely everyone.