Amnesty International UK poll shows little support for abolition of Human Rights Act

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In response to the atrocities committed during World War two, the International Community sought to define the rights and freedoms necessary to secure the dignity and worth of each individual. In 1948 the newly formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), one of the most important agreements in world history.

Shortly afterwards another newly formed international body, the Council of Europe, set about giving effect to the UDHR in a European context. The resulting European Convention on Human Rights was signed in 1950 and ratified by the United Kingdom, one of the first countries to do so, in 1951. At the time there were only ten members of the Council of Europe.

Now 47 member countries subscribe to the European Convention, and in 1998 the Human Rights Act was passed by the Labour Party in order to “give further effect” to the European Convention in British law. It consolidates international laws and includes provision for the British public have their cases heard British courts instead of having to travel to Strasbourg.

We reported that the Government intend to controversially scrap the Human Rights Act by next summer, and replace it with a British “Bill of Rights.”

A  12-week public consultation on the Conservative Bill of Rights will start in November or December this year. It will be worded to clarify that the UK will not pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), as some critics have feared, it will even mirror much of the ECHR language in an effort to “calm opposition.”

However, Amnesty International (UK) have commissioned a poll, and it seems that the British public are not particularly willing to see any change to existing Human Rights legislation, with only one in 10 people in the UK (11%) believing that scrapping the Human Rights Act should be a government priority.

The poll results were released over the weekend, and also showed that almost half (46%) of people in the UK would not want to remove any of the rights currently included in the Human Rights Act from a new bill of rights. This said, a minority (16%) also felt that the death penalty should not be outlawed in a new bill.

The new ComRes survey found that more than three-quarters (78%) of people in the UK think that rights, laws and protections must apply to everyone equally in order to be effective, while 67% agree that governments should not be able to choose which rights they enforce.

Kate Allen, the Director of Amnesty UK, said the survey indicates that the Government should abandon its “ill-advised” plans to repeal the Human Rights Act because there is “simply no appetite” for it.

She said: “The British people clearly want the Government to get on with their proper business of the day-to-day running of the country, and abandon these destructive plans.

“It’s quite right that it shouldn’t be up to governments to pick and choose which rights we are entitled to and select who they deem worthy of them. It took ordinary people a very long time to claim these rights and we mustn’t let politicians take them away with the stroke of a pen.

“It’s great to have it confirmed that British people think that rights and protections must apply to everyone equally in order to work at all.

“That includes people whose beliefs and actions we might profoundly disagree with, and it’s all the more important we stick to our enduring principles in challenging times.

“This is no time for the British government to set about dismantling and undermining human rights protections.”

We reported have that the government is currently facing investigations regarding serious allegations of contraventions of the human rights of disabled people and other protected social groups. The UK is also in breach of the rights of women and children.

A leak has revealed that Michael Gove will unveil British bill of rights to replace the Human Rights Act before Christmas. The justice minister is reportedly also seeking a “crackdown” on the so-called “human rights industry,” introducing measures intended to reduce the compensation individuals can win from public bodies following human rights claims.

Human rights groups have called the Government’s desire to scrap the  Human Rights Act “destructive”. The Ministry of Justice has of course claimed the details leaked over the weekend, were “speculation”.

The leaked draft proposals, which will be put out for a three-month consultation within weeks, indicate that the UK will remain a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, domestic courts would not be “automatically bound” to follow European Court rulings and ministers are also considering ways of guaranteeing the UK parliament’s sovereignty explicitly in law.

Harriet Harman, who is now the chair of parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, has written to Michael Gove, asking whether he could confirm that the government had officially ruled out withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights and if it would “abide by the final judgment of the ECHR in any case to which they are parties”.

I can quite understand her need for some clarity on this issue, as Cameron has previously pledged to leave the ECHR. The Sunday Times have released details of a leak revealing plans to scrap the Human Rights Act. Again.

Harman said: “In the first six months, government proposals have gone from a bill in the Queen’s speech to ‘proposals’ to ‘a consultation’. The timescale has moved from the first 100 days to this autumn and thenin a few months’ time‘.

“There is no more clarity about the government’s plans than there was back in May: we have no indication as to whether the government intends to publish a white paper, draft clauses or indeed a draft bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. It’s essential that such a vital issue is widely scrutinised and debated – and not just by politicians and lawyers. Twelve weeks is not enough.”

Lord Falconer, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, responding to the reports in the Sunday Times of the Tories’ plans, said:

“These are ill-thought out, illiterate and dangerous plans. The Human Rights Act has helped some of the most vulnerable people in our society. To talk about a “victims’ culture” is shocking and clear evidence that the Tories are intent on reducing people’s fundamental rights.

“They say they don’t want to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights but their plans clearly show that they have misunderstood the relationship between our courts and the European Court and their approach could result in such tensions that we would have to withdraw. 

“For the Government to dither over this issue and send a message that it’s ok to pick and choose the human rights you like does incredible damage both at home and to the UK’s standing in the world.

“Labour will stand firm in support of the Human Rights Act and oppose any watering down of people’s fundamental rights.”

Equal access to justice and protection of universal Human Rights is the bedrock of democracy, the alternative to this is that some people simply cease to be free.

The HRA is quite often portrayed by the Right as a party political measure. However, whilst the Human Rights Act is ultimately recognised as one of the greatest legacies of Labour in government, Cameron seems oblivious to the fact that Human Rights are not objects to be bartered away. They arose from struggles that were begun long ago by past generations who gave their lives for these rights to be enshrined in our laws.

Labour’s Human Rights Act ought to be a source of national pride. It is a civilised and a civilising law. It ensures that Britain remains a nation where key universal benchmarks of human decency and protections against state abuse are upheld by the courts. 

There is already a modern British bill of rights already. It is called the Human Rights Act.

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