Human Rights Human Lives - do they matter?

Following the announcement by the Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, that the government has signalled its intention to scrap the Human Rights Act 1998 and introduce a British Bill of Rights to replace it, this inaugural blog is dedicated to fuelling the debate! Much of the social care training we facilitate at Free Bird Associates is set within the context of the 16 articles of this much loved (by some) and much hated (by others) piece of legislation that was introduced by the Labour government in 1998 and came into force in October 2000.

Whatever the effectiveness, or otherwise, of the Act, what has struck us most in training is how little people actually know about it! So, as some of us prepare to mourn its passing, whilst others celebrate, lets at least be clear about what it stands for, and try and ensure that its successor is up to the job.

In practice, the Act has two main effects. Firstly, it incorporates the rights of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic British law. What this means is that if someone has a complaint under human rights law they do not have to go to European courts but can get justice from British courts. Secondly, it requires all public bodies – not just the central government, but institutions like the police, NHS, and local councils – to abide by these human rights. In other words, its aim is to ensure that the state, and those who undertake work on behalf of it, uphold and protect the agreed rights of everyone in this country.

So, what’s not to like? Well, plenty according to some. For example, human rights allowed an illegal immigrant to remain in the UK because he has a pet cat and it took the efforts of six successive Home Secretaries to eventually deport the alleged terror orchestrator Abu Qatada; clearly a case of ‘human rights gone mad’! Well, let’s put aside our righteous indignation for a minute and look at the facts. In the first case, the individual’s leave to stay had nothing whatsoever to do with his cat; it was, in fact, based on a ruling that the government had failed to follow its own guidance, specifically Procedures when dealing with an offender who is the unmarried partner of a person present and settled in the UK of the United Kingdom Border Agency enforcement instructions and guidance. paragraph 53.4.1.

With regard to Abu Qatada, the European Court of Human Rights held that he would not receive a fair trial in Jordan because it was likely that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him. They told the UK government it would have to obtain assurances from the Jordanian government that Qatada would receive a fair trial were he to be deported. They did, as he was.

I suspect that the uproar caused by these cases has much to with the fact that human rights are inherently universal, which means they apply to everyone, however objectionable or despicable we find their actions; more a case of ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’, rather than ‘an eye for an eye’. But is that a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater, especially when we don’t know what the next lot of bath water, the much heralded British Bill of Rights, is going to look like?

And before we do pull the plug, doesn’t it behoove every one of us to at least know what it is that we are giving up? So, I’ll leave you with two questions; do you know what your human rights are? And which would you be happy to give up without knowing what will replace them?

You can find out more about YOUR human rights by following the links below.