We seem to be entering a very dangerous period in respect of Human Rights law with a Westminster Government that appears to be trying to change laws that have been in place since 1953.
Indeed in these days of “modernised?” Conservative Government in Westminster with its “we are the government of the working people” message it is very difficult to understand why they are seeking to change and perhaps take away rights from the very people they purport to serve.
To understand the now, you really have to understand the history of human rights and why it came into being. Yet how do you explain to someone who has no real connection to the struggle what took place in this country to achieve the individual rights and fundamental freedoms we now take for granted?
We have, just last week, celebrated the end of a world war in this country. However, that appears to be as far as it goes. The reality is that at the end of the war, in order to attain, keep peace, and put an end to the possibility of there being further atrocities on the same scale as the holocaust a Universal Declaration of Human Rights was put together and accepted by the United Nations General Assembly. It was signed by many of the participants of World War 2 on 10 December 1948. This was just the beginning. An International Bill of Human Rights, consisting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights together with its two optional protocols was accepted into International Law in 1976.
The European Convention of Human Rights is a regional international treaty put in place to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. It is based on the articles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and was ratified in 1953 by the then newly formed Council of Europe. The United Kingdom was one of founder members of the Council of Europe and played a major part in the drafting of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The articles contained within the European Convention including later amendments effected from 1998 onwards contain:
An obligation on a state to respect human rights; a right to life that amongst other things contains, a duty on the state to refrain from unlawful killing, investigate suspicious deaths, and interestingly? A positive duty to prevent foreseeable loss of life; freedom from torture, which is an absolute prohibition against torture and inhumane treatment; freedom from slavery, a prohibition against slavery, servitude and forced labour; a right to liberty and security; a right to a fair trial; a prohibition against convicting anyone for an offence which, at the time it was committed, was not illegal; aright to privacy; A right to freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of expression; freedom of Association, including a right of assembly, to form associations and trade unions; a right of effective remedy; a prohibition against Discrimination which was later modified by Protocol 12 to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; states are allowed to put some human rights on hold during times of national emergency or war, however, there are strict provisos on doing so that must be adhered to; political activity of foreign nationals can be limited, however, this does not include foreign nationals belonging to the European Union; prohibition against abuse of human rights, meaning a state cannot use one human right to limit rights under another human right; permitted restrictions states that any limitations on the rights provided for under the Convention may only be used for the exact reason for which they are provided.
Later articles introduced from 1998 include: A right to peaceful enjoyment of property; a right not to be denied an education and a right for parents to be able to choose how their children are educated; a right to regular fair elections; a prohibition against imprisonment of people for inability to fulfil a contract; the right to move freely within a state’s borders once lawfully there and a right to leave that state; a prohibition against the expulsion of individuals from their own state and a right for individuals to enter the country of their birth; a prohibition against the expulsion of lawfully resident foreign nationals; a restriction on the use of the death penalty; a right to fair procedures for lawfully resident foreign nationals facing expulsion; a right to appeal in criminal matters; a right to compensation for individuals who have suffered a miscarriage of justice; a prohibition on the re-trial of a person that has finally been acquitted or convicted of an offence; a right to equality between spouses; Protocol 12 which has not been ratified by the UK extends the prohibition against discrimination to include the exercise of any legal right and to the actions (including obligations) of Public Authorities; the last amendment provides for the abolition of the Death Penalty in Europe.
Important points to note that have not been mentioned by the UK Westminster Government are firstly the fact that the European Court of Justice is independent of the European Union Government. Secondly, and one of the sore points to the UK Westminster Government is the fact that an individual bringing an action under human rights legislation that is not, in the eyes of the European Court of Justice, satisfactorily dealt with in his own country has the right to take the case to the European Court.
The argument has been, recently, that this interferes with the sovereignty of UK law courts. However, given that the European Court of Justice always takes into serious consideration the judgement of the sovereign court of any state in its judgement, this argument is really null and void. Surely this extra protection for an individual against human rights violation to an independent court is actually an innovation and to be applauded
The European Convention of Human Rights has taken nearly fifty years to become what it is today. The legislation has not at all been hastily put together. It does have the capacity to innovate and develop as the lives of individuals develop. Added to this, the UK is already a signatory to the International Bill of Rights through the UN. So what is the need to abolish what we have?
- Perhaps this is a case of a Government trying to get out of dealing with difficult situations caused by their own policies that do not, in true conscience, adhere to Human Rights Law?
- Perhaps this has more to do with guilt at known stretching of human rights boundaries rather than an actual need to change the law?
- Perhaps TTIP cannot happen with the Human Rights legislation we have in force at present?
I leave it to you to decide, but please take heed and be aware, get to know your rights and do not let a slow erosion process take them away.