Human Rights Act update: We’ve got to fight for our rights

Unfamiliar with the Human Rights Act and the debate about it? Never fear - have a look at this brief introduction to what the brap everyone is talking about! icon What the brap_HRA (440.54 kB)

You may have heard that for some time now the Conservatives have been talking about replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities (they first published a draft of the document in October). Now that they’ve formed a majority government this issue has come to a head, and we’re in a position of needing to fight to protect our Human Rights Act.

We’ve written on this previously (see Human Rights: Terms and Conditions Apply), but the headline points are:

This change is a dangerous threat to our basic rights

The Conservatives say the new Bill of Rights and Responsibilities would limit the use of human rights law to “only the most serious cases”. There would be a threshold below which Convention rights would not be used, so that courts can strike out “trivial cases”. But not only is it unclear who will decide which cases are too ‘trivial’ to apply human rights to, it seems obvious that as long as you remain human, human rights remain applicable!

The Bill would also mean that in cases where the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judges that UK law contradicts the fundamental rights set out in the Convention, the UK will only need to consider this judgement as ‘advisory’. The UK government would introduce a new parliamentary process to consider judgements from the ECtHR and only those judgements that Parliament agrees with would become binding. This is a worrying precedent – what other court rulings would Parliament be able to reject in future?

The main question, though, is this: do we really want the government to be this powerful? Do we trust them with these decisions about our rights? The Human Rights Act is legislation for us. It allows ordinary people to hold the government to account: we shouldn’t undervalue this.

The Human Rights Act is not connected with the EU
The Act is a proud part of British history. The European Convention on Human Rights was written in response to the atrocities of the Holocaust, drafted in large part by British lawyers. The Human Rights Act was brought in to “bring those rights home” and gained cross-party support in the British Parliament.

Also, it is nothing to do with the European Union - that is a separate entity, unrelated to the Act or Convention.

The Human Rights Act protects everyone
The Human Rights Act has a bad image, that’s undeniable. The press likes to feed us these stories of people being allowed to stay in the country because they’ve got a cat, or criminals being given fried chicken, etc., but these stories are based on myths and rumours.

The Human Rights Act and the Convention have actually had a huge, positive impact for a lot of people. Couples kept apart by being placed in different care homes, for example, have used the Act to overturn such decisions. Patients at Mid-Staffordshire hospital used the Human Rights Act to challenge the treatment they received. The ECtHR recently ruled that a disabled woman had her dignity infringed when her local authority withdrew night-time care. The list goes on and on.

We’ve got to fight for our rights
The main thing we object to in the draft Bill of Rights and Responsibilities are the proposals which would reduce the circumstances in which human rights can be used and the people who can make use of them. In our view there are no cases too trivial to consider people’s rights. By definition human rights are inalienable, they are fundamental, and can’t be removed. They apply to everyone all the time.

Most importantly, a change is unnecessary. Our Human Rights Act already enshrines our rights: we don’t need this Bill.

So now is not the time for complacency - if we do nothing, we may find that the Human Rights Act, and the protections it affords, are diluted, amended…maybe even removed. The danger is that, because we don't really understand human rights, we don't know how much we'll miss having our current protection until it's gone.

The Human Rights Act is for us. These rights are the things we have just because we’re human: they entitle us to dignity in health care, give us the freedom to speak uncomfortable truths, and ensure we are treated equally before the law. Whatever happens, we’ll be fighting to ensure human rights continue to apply to everyone, everywhere, all the time.  We hope you will too.

Here’s how you can join in the campaign to protect the Human Rights Act:

The most important thing is to educate ourselves and others about the Human Rights Act, share information, and talk to people about human rights. Also, join in the conversation on Twitter: