One of the promises that David Cameron made if his party were to win the election was the promise to abolish the Human Rights Act and replace with a “British Bill of Rights” a plan of which has split the conservative party internally due to the fact the idea has split people’s opinion so much.
What is the Human Rights Act and why should I care if it goes?
The Human Rights Act came into force in 2000, bringing the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law.
This international treaty – which the UK signed up to after World War Two – created basic rights and freedoms which every citizen in Europe is entitled to.
Human rights cases can now be heard in UK courts, instead of having to be heard at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.The Human Rights Act includes the rights to life, liberty and security, a fair trial, respect for private life, and freedom of expression as well as the right not to be a slave. Critics say the Human Rights Act has led to “perverse” judgements, including a ruling that found the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners voting was unlawful and allowing hate preachers to stay in the UK as deporting them would infringe on their human rights. Ministers have been fighting an ongoing battle for sometime now to avoid implementing this judgement. David Cameron himself has gone on record saying “the idea of prisoners voting” makes him feel physically sick.
Supporters stress that the original European convention on human rights was written by British lawyers after World War Two.
They argue that many human rights cases have involved victims challenging governments for gross failures to protect them.
They say if the UK scraps the Human Rights Act then it will lose legitimacy and effectiveness in speaking out against human rights abuses elsewhere.
Judgements supporters cite as important include a ruling that the UK was violating an individual’s right to privacy by holding fingerprint and DNA information of people who hadn’t been charged or convicted of a crime.
Supporters also point to a ruling that the UK had violated the human rights of several homosexual soldiers who had been dismissed from the armed forces because of their sexuality as well as in other occasions. This case led to the law on the sexuality of those who can serve in the UK’s armed forces being changed.The Tories say they want a Bill of Rights specifically designed to fit the needs and traditions of British people.They say the Bill would allow the ECHR to apply a “margin of appreciation” – more discretion – in its rulings, so judges would be more likely to take into account British culture and history.
Opponents say the plans could dilute human rights laws. Human rights reform is immensely complicated.
The changes would have to tie into whatever the government decides to do about devolution to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The danger of course being that the most vulnerable groups of society would end up becoming exploited instead of protected. Whilst the decision is currently a hotly debated one, this is a decision I feel that people need to think carefully about, as if not, our most basic rights as human beings could become under threat.