This is the full version of a letter to the Derby Telegraph (pub 18 October 2014) written by Derby member Jean Macdonald to defend the Human Rights Act. She wrote in response to a correspondent who was following the anti-human rights propaganda of the right wing parties and suggesting Britain should “leave the EU to get away from human rights law”.
The campaign to denigrate the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the Tories determination to repeal it is madness. Mr Cameron’s demonising of human rights law marks a significant shift to the right and appears to be an attempt to fight off the threat from UKIP. However, the result of repealing the Human Rights Act will do incalculable damage to the country.
After the Second World War, the Council of Europe (CE) was set up to promote democracy and human rights in Europe. It has 47 member states with 820 million citizens, and is an entirely separate body from the European Union.
The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was drafted in 1950 by British lawyers and supported by Winston Churchill. Its aim was to ensure that no future fascist regime could lock up its own citizens or make them ‘disappear’.
The Convention established the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). All public bodies such as courts, police, local governments, hospitals, publicly funded schools carrying out public functions have to comply with the Convention rights. Any person who felt his or her rights had been violated could take their case to the Court in Strasbourg.
In 1998, the Human Rights Act was passed by the UK Parliament and came into force in the United Kingdom in October 2000. The Act enabled individuals to take human rights cases to domestic courts rather than having to go to Strasbourg to argue their case.
Many “ordinary” people have had their rights upheld by the court. Public authorities in the UK – including hospitals and social services – have an obligation to treat everyone with fairness, equality and dignity. Through taking a case to court a vulnerable elderly couple who had been sent to different care homes won the right to be cared for in the same care home.
In 2008 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK was violating an individual’s right to privacy by holding fingerprint and DNA information of people who hadn’t been charged. At the time, nearly one million innocent people had their DNA or fingerprints on the database. The UK Law Lords had defended the police’s right to hold our personal information in this way and it took a European Court judgement for common sense to prevail.
What will happen if we remove ourselves from the court and laws that protect our rights in the UK? The only country in Europe not in the ECHR is Belarus. Do we want to join them? The UK is rightly proud of our tough stance around the world on human rights. Can we be confident that no future UK government will ever contemplate actions that will threaten our human rights?
As a member of The Green Party I am committed to the principles in the European Convention on Human Rights and to staying in the EU and working to reform it. I am concerned to hear of any party who is considering opting out.
Everyone can quote examples where money appears to have been wasted on ‘trivial’ matters but what the Tories are doing is highlighting a few decisions they dislike by the ECHR and ignoring all the good decisions that are made. This is nonsense and appears to me to be throwing the baby out with the bath water.