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Thursday, May 14, 2015

The campaign to save the Human Rights Act is underway

Over at the Western Mail, Welsh Liberal Democrats Leader, Kirsty Williams argues that the new UK Government’s desire to repeal the Human Rights Act could prompt the first constitutional crisis of the parliamentary term,.

She points out that the Act is embedded in Wales’ devolution settlement and it is unlikely that Assembly Members here will want to lose it:

“The new Conservative Government is trying to deprive Welsh people of their human rights. As things stand, elderly people who are in conflict with a local authority over the care they receive can use this legislation to fight their case.

“If the Conservatives got away with taking away these rights, we would be worse off.

“But because the Human Rights is embedded in the Government of Wales Act 2006, it is not so easy for them.

“Under the Sewel Convention, the UK Government should ask the Assembly’s permission to remove the Human Rights Act from the Government of Wales Act.

“I’m sure the majority of AMs would not agree to that.”

I am sure Scotland is as equally determined.

In the Independent, Shami Chakrabarti makes a very powerful argument as to why we need to fight tooth and nail to keep this legislation. She says that the so-called “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” is an incredibly dangerous confidence trick:

The omission of “human” and addition of “British” suggests this isn’t about “injecting common sense”. At best, it’s empty pandering to xenophobia.

It undermines the universality of human rights, which earlier generations paid for with their lives, and allows any government to pick when they apply, and to whom.

She adds that the pledge to stop those who pose a national security risk or have entered the UK illegally from relying on “questionable human rights claims” is a headline-grabber that will turn us into a country happy to deliver other humans, however detestable, into the hands of torturers. It is a pledge that will ignore innocent British children’s rights when considering deporting their parents:

The Bill will also limit the use of human rights laws to the “most serious cases”, with “trivial cases” excluded. Rosa Parks refuses to go to the back of the bus; your dying mum waits hours to be helped to the toilet in her care home. Should politicians decide what is a “trivial case”? I think not.

The obvious and menacing conclusion is this: if the Council of Europe doesn’t agree the Bill is a legitimate way of applying the Convention, the Government will pull out of that too. Churchill’s post-war legacy, drafted by great Conservative legal minds, tossed to the wind.

Repercussions for our shakily united kingdom will be seismic, as the HRA underpins the Good Friday Agreement and the Scotland Act. But the aftershocks will be global; despots in eastern Europe and beyond must be rubbing their hands in glee. If the UK doesn’t care about fundamental rights, why should they?

Human rights are for everyone and must be protected with the law at home and abroad. Because what politics gives, it can also take away.

It is no good asking whether the Tories have thought this through, they clearly have not. The bigger question is how we have ended up with a government that does not understand the basic concept of human rights nor the historical context in which the European Convention works.
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