Michael Gove, former Education Secretary, has been appointed Justice Secretary: he is now in charge of the Department for Justice. With this appointment, it is clear that Cameron has plans for potentially radical reform, and regards justice as an area that needs a hardened, radical and senior Tory politician to drive through changes that are likely to be controversial. Gove does have form.
Gove’s first task is to scrap the Human Rights Act, (HRA) which was the previous Labour government’s legislation designed to supplement the European Convention on Human Rights, it came into effect in 2000. The Act makes available a remedy for breach of Convention right without the need to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
As I have previously reported, the rights protected by the Act are quite basic. They include the right to life, liberty and the right to a fair trial; protection from torture and ill-treatment; freedom of speech, thought, religion, conscience and assembly; the right to free elections; the right to fair access to the country’s education system; the right NOT to be given the death penalty; the right to marry and an overarching right not to be discriminated against.
Cameron has argued that it should be repealed just 15 years after its implementation … so that he can pass another unspecified Act – a British Bill of Rights. Dismantling UK equality and human rights legislations is a long held ambition of Conservatives, and they also plan to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.
But why would any government object to citizens being afforded such established, basic protections, which are, after all, very simple internationally shared expectations of any first world liberal democracy?
One sentence from the misleadingly titled document that outlines how the Tories plan to scrap the Human Rights Act – Protecting Human Rights in the UK, (found on page 6 ) – is particularly chilling: “There will be a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged.”
Basically this means that human rights will no longer be absolute or universal – they will be subject to stipulations and caveats. The government will establish a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged, allowing UK courts to strike out what are deemed trivial cases.
However, the whole point of human rights is that they apply universally; that every social group is protected from political abuse, eugenics, discrimination, prejudice and oppression.
The Tories’ motivation for changing our human rights is to allow reinterpretations to work around the new legislation when they deem it necessary. The internationally agreed rights that the Tories have always seen as being open to interpretation will become much more parochial and open to subjective challenge.
The government may claim, for example, that any legal challenge is simply ‘politically motivated’. Or that cases of open discrimination or abuse as a result of government policy are merely ‘anecdotal’.
Any precedent that allows a government room for manoeuvre around basic and fundamental human rights is incredibly dangerous. Universal human rights exist to protect citizens against governments precisely for this reason – to hold those in power to account for abuse of that power.
No other country has proposed de-incorporating a human rights treaty from its law so that it can introduce a Bill of Rights. The truly disturbing aspect of Cameron’s Bill of Rights pledge is that rather than manifestly building on the HRA, it’s predicated on its denigration and repeal. One has to wonder what his discomfort with the HRA is. The Act, after all, goes towards protecting the vulnerable from neglect of duty and abuse of power of the State. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was an International response to the atrocities of World War Two and the rise of fascism and totalitarianism.
During their last term, the Tories contravened the Human Rights of disabled people, women and children. It’s clear that we have a government that regards the rights of most of the population as an inconvenience to be brushed aside. ‘Red tape’.
I also previously reported that Cameron has pledged to leave the European Convention on Human Rights. Cameron has expressed a wish to break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights. In future Britain’s courts will no longer be required to take into account rulings from the Court in Strasbourg.
Observation of Human Rights distinguishes democratic leaders from dictators and despots. Human Rights are the bedrock of our democracy, they are universal, and are a reflection of a society’s and a governments’ recognition of the equal worth of every citizens’ life. But the government have an ideology that is founded on distinctly social Darwinist principles, and have systematically devalued the lives of historically marginalised social groups. Conservatives think that the lives of ordinary ‘others’ are cheap and disposable, because they see UK citizens as a means to their own ends, based on their own priorities and eugenic ideology. What matters to the Tories is how, as citizens, we contribute to enriching the already wealthy class by providing cheap labour. We are simply reduced to statistics and units of ‘economic stock’.
These principles support economic neoliberalism and political conservatism. Class/social division is justified on the basis of “natural” inequalities among individuals, for the control of property is ludicrously claimed to be a correlate of superior and inherent moral attributes such as industriousness, temperance, and frugality. Attempts to reform society through state intervention, therefore, interfere with natural processes; unrestricted competition and defense of the status quo are in accord with biological selection, from this perspective. The poor are “unfit” and should not be supported and aided; in the struggle for existence, wealth is a sign of success. The Tories believe that some lives, therefore, “naturally” have much more value than others.
Gove, now the Justice Secretary, has previously called for hanging to be reintroduced. Writing in 1998 as a Times columnist, he said Britain was “wrong to abolish hanging” in the 1960s, when the death penalty was outlawed. Gove made the irrational claims that banning hanging had “led to a corruption of our criminal justice system and the erosion of all our freedoms rather than “a great liberal victory,” as it was seen at the time.
Gove made the incoherent claim that banning hanging has made punishing innocent people “more likely,” he went on to conclude that public opinion had moved in favour of reintroducing hanging and that doing so could repair the broken trust between voters and politicians. Gove said he supported the “return of the noose out of respect for democracy”, and because it would force the courts to act with “scrupulous fairness.”
This deranged, barbaric relic actually said: “Hanging may seem barbarous, but the greater barbarity lies in the slow abandonment of our common law traditions. Were I ever alone in the dock I would not want to be arraigned before our flawed tribunals, knowing my freedom could be forfeit as a result of political pressures. I would prefer a fair trial, under the shadow of the noose.”
At the beginning of the 19th century, children in Britain were punished in the same way as adults. They were even sentenced to death for petty theft. It has historically been the case that the poorest tend to be executed, and it remains true: there are no millionaires on death row. (See also: Amnesty International UK – )
In 1965, in the UK, Parliament passed Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act, temporarily abolishing capital punishment for murder for 5 years. The Act was then renewed in 1969, by the Labour government under Harold Wilson, making the abolition permanent.
And with the passage of Labour’s Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and their Human Rights Act 1998, the death penalty was finally officially abolished for all crimes in both civilian and military cases, also.
The Human Rights Act is to be abolished, and Cameron has pledged to withdraw from the European Convention. In case you missed the connection, repealing the Human Rights Act will make the reintroduction of capital punishment much easier. The full range of potential consequences of losing our human rights laws are truly terrifying to consider.
For those of you that have campaigned against the Labour Party, claiming that they aren’t quite “left” enough, despite the fact that Miliband was actually offering the most progressive, redistributive policies of ALL the parties, and smaller cuts and for less time. (I guess some of you never bothered reading the Institute of Fiscal Studies Report, or Labour’s manifesto).
Under a Labour government, our Human Rights, NHS and welfare would now be safe. The bedroom tax would now be repealed. We would be rebuilding and making progress as a society instead of regressing and fearfully discussing the threats of tyranny and the possibility of the reintroduction of capital punishment.
We are about to lose everything that made us a civilised first-world country, from our human rights to our post-war democratic settlement: welfare, our National Health Service and what remains of our access to legal aid. I predict that by 2020, this undermining of the fabric of our society: the mechanisms that make us civilised, will be almost undone. The loss of democratic safeguards will affect many more citizens, and it will become much more evident that the Conservatives are the most corrupt, authoritarian and nationalist government that the UK has known for many generations.
Until the people of this country take some responsibility and demand that politics is based on truth and the needs of the majority, we will continue to have a corrupt authoritarian elite serving only the wants of the 1%.
Love and solidarity to all my comrades, who are mutually grieving a future we have lost, and who acknowledge and face the losses yet to come. Stay brave and true.
It’s never been more important to help each other through, and we really are going to need to.
Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes.
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