My HRA: Patience Asuquo

Towards the end of last year the Commission on a Bill of Rights finally published its findings. The eventual Report exposed deep divisions, with leading civil liberties lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws QC and Lib Dem international law professor Philippe Sands QC producing a minority dissent defending the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Read more

The Great Bill of Rights Commission Shambles

18 December 2012

Another chapter in Coalition rows over Constitutional reform ended today with the conclusion of its 18-month commission on a British Bill of Rights. The final report exposed deep divisions. Labour Peer and leading civil liberties lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws QC and Lib Dem International Law Professor Philippe Sands QC produced a minority dissent defending the Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights.

Read more

Exit the Bill of Rights house...

Over the weekend, the news “broke” (perhaps “cracked” or “seeped” is a more appropriate metaphor?), that a certain Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky will no longer be part of the Government’s Bill of Rights’ Commission. There are conflicting reports as to whether the good doctor walked or was pushed and sadly, we may never know whether Professor Plum did it in the library with the lead piping.

Read more

Five actions for the festive season

2011 will go down in history as the year pro-democracy rebellions erupted across the Middle East. The hunger for basic rights and freedoms across the world should remind us all of the ever present need to protect and defend rights at home.

Read more

Bill of Rights Commission

Subheader: 
Defend our common values

In March 2011, the Prime Minister set up a Bill of Rights Commission to explore the idea of a Bill of Rights that “incorporates and builds on Britain’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights”. The announcement and the accompanying terms of reference made no reference to the Human Rights Act 1998.

The final report, published in December 2012 exposed deep divisions. Labour Peer and leading civil liberties lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws QC and Lib Dem International Law Professor Philippe Sands QC produced a minority dissent defending the Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights.

Even the remaining commissioners are divided on the fundamental issue of whether the UK should pull out of the Convention and nothing in the Report sheds any light on the proposed contents of a mythical British Bill of Rights or how this could be imposed upon the devolved countries of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland without jeopardising the current constitutional settlement.

The Commission conducted a public consultation in 2011.

 

Six reasons why Liberty believes we do not need a replacement bill of rights:

 

1. We already have a modern day Bill of Rights

We already have a modern day Bill of Rights in this country - the Human Rights Act. The HRA incorporates the post-WW2 Convention on Human Rights into UK law. It is universal; simultaneously English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, European and so on. And it preserves parliamentary sovereignty while protecting the rights of every human being in this country or under UK control.

2. What’s really on offer? Less protection for the vulnerable

Given the commitment in the 2010 Conservative Manifesto to scrap the HRA we must not be fooled into thinking this is some kind of great opportunity. Those out to replace the HRA - including a number of members on the Commission - have been clear that they want to dilute the vital protections this legislation currently offers. This would mean less protection for the vulnerable against rich and powerful interests – political, media, corporate and so on.

3. Which rights would you take away?

As the late Rt Hon Lord Bingham of Cornhill, former Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice and Senior Law Lord, said in 2008, who would seek to remove or weaken such fundamental rights as the right not to be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to liberty, the right to a fair trial? “Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard? Are any of them trivial, superfluous, unnecessary? Are any of them un-British? There may be those who would like to live in a country where these rights are not protected, but I am not of their number.”[1]

4. Foreigners somewhere or human beings everywhere

Some say that we need to make rights more ‘British’. Sadly we’ve all seen how weak rights contingent on citizenship can be. They are all too easily taken away, as the experience of British detainees at Guantanamo Bay shows. We have to choose between being foreigners somewhere or human beings everywhere.

5. Mass support for rights contained in HRA

In Septmber 2011 a Liberty/ComRes poll showed mass support (93%) for a law that protects rights and freedoms in Britain. 96% of respondents believed the right to a fair trial is vital or important, 90% believed the right not to be tortured or degraded is vital or important and 95% believed that respect for privacy and family life is vital or important. Yet less than a tenth of respondents (9%) remember ever having received or seen information from the Government explaining the Human Rights Act.

6. No public education on HRA

As our polling suggests, there has been very little public education about the rights and freedoms contained in the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights and how they protect us. As a result, many myths and misunderstandings have sprung up about human rights law, including who it does and doesn’t protect and what values it contains. Visit our Human Rights Act myths to find out some of the myths surrounding human rights law.

 

[1] Taken from the late Rt Hon Lord Bingham of Cornhill’s keynote speech at Liberty’s 75th Anniversary Conference.

 

Article 2: Right to life

There has been very little public education about the rights and freedoms in the Human Rights Act and how it works. As a result, many myths and misunderstandings have sprung up about the HRA – including who it does and doesn’t protect and what values it contains.

Read more

Spare us the dog whistle Prime Minister...

Another day, another unprovoked attack on the Human Rights Act. The Prime Minister, writing in the Sunday Express, gave the HRA another thoroughly predictable bashing. It’s all becoming depressingly familiar – the legislation carries the can for everything from the recent riots, ‘young people today’ to a perceived erosion of personal responsibility. Perhaps climate change and rising obesity can be laid at its door too?

Read more

We’ve already got a Bill of Rights – the HRA – defend it!

Back in March, the Prime Minister set up a Bill of Rights Commission to investigate the possibility of creating a 'UK Bill of Rights'. Today the Commission embarked upon its first step of public consultation, launching a discussion paper asking people “Do we need a UK Bill of Rights?”

Read more

Liberty responds to Bill of Rights Commission

18 March 2011

Today the Government announced a commission to investigate another British Bill of Rights. The commission will explore the idea of a Bill of Rights that ‘incorporates and builds on Britain’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights [and] ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in UK law’.

Read more

The History of Human Rights

In Britain the idea that human beings possess a set of inherent and inalienable rights has deep roots which can be traced back over centuries.

Here are some of the key dates in the history of human rights in the UK:

1166  The earliest ancestor of contemporary human rights protection was the Assize of Clarendon, passed by Henry II in 1166. A precursor to trial by jury, the Assize paved the way for the abolition of trial by combat and trial by ordeal.

1215  Another of the earliest and most commonly cited milestones in the history of human rights in the UK is the Magna Carta – an English Charter issued in 1215 which contained the writ of habeas corpus, allowing people to appeal against imprisonment without trial.

1647  In the autumn of 1647, a group of English political activists, the ‘Levellers’, produced “An Agreement of the People”, which set forth a collection of constitutional principles discussed at the famous Putney debates. The Levellers called for liberty of conscience in matters of religion, freedom from conscription and asked that laws “apply equally to everyone: there must be no discrimination on grounds of tenure, estate, charter, degree, birth or place”.

1689  One of the most important documents in the political history of Britain: the Bill of Rights was published in 1689. It put the notion of inalienable rights beyond doubt. An Act of Parliament after the ‘Glorious Revolution’, the Bill included the freedom to petition the Monarch (a precursor to political protest rights), the freedom from cruel and unusual punishments (the forerunner to the ban on torture contained in our Human Rights Act) and the freedom from being fined without trial.

1774  In a victory for public information and the free press the Parliamentary Register was launched in 1774, following campaigning by Radical MP John Wilkes and others. The Register reported the details of parliamentary debates which had previously been restricted.

1832  The 1832 Reform Act increased the electorate from around 366,000 to 650,000 people, about 18 per cent of the total adult-male population in England and Wales. It excluded women and working class men, and votes were still cast in public, but it was a landmark on the road towards universal suffrage.

1833 The Slavery Abolition Act was passed, outlawing the slave trade throughout the British Empire.

1918  At the end of the First World War the Representation of the People Act gave the vote to all women over 30, enfranchising over eight million women. Shortly afterwards women were also allowed to stand for Parliament, although it took another decade for the vote to be extended to all adult women.

1934  Liberty was founded, as the National Council for Civil Liberties, and 80 years later we’re still going strong. Find out more about our history.

1948  As the world reeled from the horrors of the Second World War, there came an important realisation that although fundamental rights should be respected as a matter of course, without formal protection human rights concepts are of little use to those facing persecution. The result was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one of the most important agreements in the history of human rights.

1950  The European Convention on Human Rights was agreed in the aftermath of the Second World War. British lawyers played an instrumental role in the development of the Convention, and the UK signed up in 1951. Find out more about international laws protecting human rights.

1957  The Wolfenden Report was published, marking a turning point in official attitudes towards homosexuality in Western countries. Male homosexuality was finally decriminalised a decade later in the Sexual Offences Act.

1975/6  In 1975 and 1976 respectively the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act made it illegal to discriminate against anyone on grounds of their gender or ethnicity, and introduced the concept of indirect discrimination.

1998  Enacted by a youthful Labour Government in 1998, the Human Rights Act (HRA) contains a set of civil and political rights considered fundamental to any liberal democracy. Since it came into force, the HRA has been used as a political football as the Government and the Opposition both seek to seem the toughest on crime and terror by creating a false distinction between liberty and security. But the Human Rights Act is rooted in British culture and history and it has a proud, 800-year-old family tree.



 

Pages