A group of senior Labour Party figures have said that David Cameron should drop his plans to dismantle the Human Rights Act.
In a joint letter, headed by acting leader Harriet Harman and Lord Falconer, the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, the Prime Minister is asked to abandon his plans to scrap the Act entirely.
Harriet Harman said: “What an irony that yesterday the Prime Minister was presiding over the celebration of Magna Carta at the same time he’s planning to undermine the Human Rights Act.
“No wonder that though he mentioned human rights in South Africa – and preyed in aid Nelson Mandela – and mentioned human rights in India – and preyed in aid Ghandi – he could not bring himself to mention Europe and our Convention.”
The Human Rights Act is a UK law passed by the Labour government in 1998. It means that you can defend your rights in the UK courts, instead of having to travel to Strasbourg – and that public organisations, including the Government, the Police and local councils, must treat everyone equally, with fairness, dignity and respect.
The Human Rights Act protects all of us – young, old, rich and poor. It originates from an international response to the atrocities of World War Two, including the Holocaust and fascist regimes. The Human Rights Act consolidates much of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
The whole point of Human Rights is that they are universal. Yet despite this, the Government wants to replace our Human Rights Act with their “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities”. This would weaken everyone’s rights, they would become open to subjective interpretation – leaving politicians to decide when our fundamental freedoms should and should not apply.
This is the same Conservative Party who despise open justice, who have destroyed legal aid and tried to destroy Judicial Review. This is the same Party that thinks they are above the Rule of Law. It is the same Party that has systematically dismissed the Human Rights of disabled people, women and children.
The letter to David Cameron says:
“Dear Prime Minister
As you are aware, this year is the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, a year to celebrate Britain’s role as a guarantor of individual rights. Yet, as we celebrate this great landmark, the commitment to individual human rights now appears to be under threat.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – adopted in 1948 – which Conservative politicians contributed to – enshrines:
- The right to life, liberty and security
- The right to a fair trial
- Protection from torture
- Freedom of thought, conscience, religion, speech and assembly
- The right to free elections
- The right not to be discriminated against
Which of these rights do you not agree with?
Defending the Human Rights Act and our membership of the European Convention on Human Rights is not straightforward because it often involves defending the rights of an unworthy individual from a legitimate authority, or the rights of an unpopular minority from a popular majority.
The Human Rights Act is always going to be a nuisance to those in power because it stops them getting on and doing things unconstrained. But there is an inherent susceptibility for those who have power to extend it, to over-reach and ultimately abuse it. And that is irrespective of how legitimate that power is, how they acquired that power and whether or not they think they are doing the right thing.
So it is right that government ministers should have to look over their shoulder and that their power is tempered by other people’s rights. And we do need to have our executive and our legislature set within a framework of human rights.
This is important to people’s human rights here in Britain and for the human rights of those in other countries. If we were to walk away from our international human rights treaty obligations, we would not be able to press other countries to respect human rights. We cannot say to others in Europe – particularly Eastern Europe – that they should stay within a European framework but that we have somehow outgrown it, or don’t need it anymore.
Human rights are part of, not at variance with, our British values and they matter for our place in the world.
We understand you have put your plans on hold for a year, while you work out exactly how you will go about the dismantling of our human rights laws.
We ask you today to abandon your plans entirely, and as a result of the public interest in this issue, will be releasing this letter to the media.”
It is signed by the Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP, Interim Leader of the Labour Party, and the Rt Hon Lord Charles Falconer QC, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice.
The letter is also signed by Andy Slaughter, shadow minister for justice, Lord Bach, shadow attorney general, Karl Turner, shadow solicitor general, Keir Starmer MP, Baroness Corston, former chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Baroness Kennedy QC and Kate O’Rourke, chairman of the Society of Labour Lawyers.