What we currently have in place has three main effects. These are as follows:
1. It incorporates the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic British law. This means that if your human rights have been breached, you can take your case to a British court rather than having to seek justice from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
2. It requires all public bodies (like courts, police, local authorities, hospitals and publicly funded schools) and other bodies carrying out public functions to respect and protect your human rights.
3. In practice it means that Parliament will nearly always seek to ensure that new laws are compatible with the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (although ultimately Parliament is sovereign and can pass laws which are incompatible). The courts will also where possible interpret laws in a way which is compatible with Convention rights.
If you are curious, then you might be interested in the actual text of the act itself. You can find it here.
What is in the European Convention on Human Rights?
Basically, lots of really good ideas, things we have as a species learned the hard way over many centuries …
- Article 2 Right to life
- Article 3 Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment
- Article 4 Freedom from slavery and forced labour
- Article 5 Right to liberty and security
- Article 6 Right to a fair trial
- Article 7 No punishment without law
- Article 8 Respect for your private and family life, home and correspondence
- Article 9 Freedom of thought, belief and religion
- Article 10 Freedom of expression
- Article 11 Freedom of assembly and association
- Article 12 Right to marry and start a family
- Article 14 Protection from discrimination in respect of these rights and freedoms
- Protocol 1, Article 1 Right to peaceful enjoyment of your property
- Protocol 1, Article 2 Right to education
- Protocol 1, Article 3 Right to participate in free elections
- Protocol 13, Article 1 Abolition of the death penalty
Wait a second, what happened to Articles 1 and 13? The current UK Human rights Act covers those.
- Article 1 says that states must secure the rights of the Convention in their own jurisdiction … and that is what the Human Rights Act does
- Article 13 ensures that if people’s rights are violated they are able to access an effective remedy – this means they can take their case to court to seek a judgment, and once again the UK Human Rights Act enables you to go to a UK court, so it also ticks this box.
You can read more about the European Convention on Human Rights here, and how it is rooted within the context of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in fact the above articles mirrors The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
What is now happening in the UK?
It has been formally announced that the UK Human Rights Act is to be abolished and replaced with a “British bill of rights” rooted in “British values”. This has been confirmed, it really is going to happen.
The precise details are as yet unknown.
Why is this being done?
Basically it will break the legal link between the UK and the European Court of Human Rights.
Is this a good idea? No, because it will change the legal framework and would weaken the human rights protections that we all enjoy.
Will it actually happen?
Probably not, the opposition is very vocal.
It would need to get through the commons. Some are suggesting that an attempt to do this will results in a backbench rebellion amongst Tories. One News article within TheWeek comments …
Several prominent Tories have already voiced their criticism, including former justice minister Ken Clarke and former attorney general Dominic Grieve QC, who warn the move could undermine the rule of law and risks putting the UK into conflict with the European court.
It would also need to get through the House of Lords, and there the Tories are in a minority.
Within the other assemblies the opposition to this is also quite vocal. In Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has clearly stated her opposition to this, and there are rumours of discussions between the SNP and backbench Tories to coordinate and unify opposition to it all. There are many other legal issues that this opens up, for example, doing this just might breach the existing Good Friday agreement (yikes).
We can’t just let things play out
The perseveration of our existing rights is not something we should take for granted, and so there are things you can do.
Amnesty International is also opposed to this and have a campaign rolling to oppose the change. As a side note, when you find that what you are proposing to do is being very vocally opposed by an impartial NGO such as Amnesty International then you can be sure that you have truly fucked up on an epic scale.
So far, as I write this, 133078 have signed.