Plenty of proof exists that indicates pupils in the public school system have not been sufficiently educated about the Human Rights Act. This lack of information has resulted in widespread misconceptions about the HRA, even amongst the UK’s elite, wealthy, and highly educated community. Inaccurate and deceptive media reporting has also perpetuated this problem. A blatant example is the Sun’s 2009 headline that “Human Rights rule will cripple British troops.” Consequently, there are those who are in support of the Conservative government’s desire to replace the Human Rights Act with the “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities,” supposedly in order to “restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK.”
As a result of misconceptions and misbeliefs, the rights of all UK citizens could be curtailed. The most popular delusion, that keeping the HRA means continuing to restrict British Courts as a result of the HRA’s link with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, is the one which David Cameron, Chris Grayling, and Michael Gove are capitalizing on the most. However, upon closer inspection of the HRA, it is explicitly evident that this is not the case. British courts are only expected to take into consideration the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, and they may deviate from them if and when they wish to. This is why the lack of knowledge about the HRA amongst the population is detrimental. Since British interpretations are also taken into consideration when Strasbourg judges pass verdicts, revoking the HRA means terminating this practice, which is inherently beneficial to Britain.
Contrary to popular belief, the HRA does not “only protect criminals and terrorists and guarantee nothing for victims.” Article 2 of the HRA protects the right to life. Strong proof comes from a murder in 2005, which took place in Winchester, when convicted sex offender Anthony Rice murdered Naomi Bryant while he was on parole. Rice admitted to the murder and was sent back to jail, and the authorities were ready to close the case. However, for Naomi’s mother Verna, it was far from over. Only through Article 2 of the HRA, which explicitly “requires an effective and proper investigation into all deaths caused by the State,” was Verna able to learn of Rice’s previous raping of women and children, which even the authorities did not know of. Even though this uncovering of information was only made possible through the HRA, the Act was condemned as the reason behind why Rice was able to be released from prison in the first place. Deep flaws in the system were revealed, which sadly were then projected onto the HRA instead, which evidently has the best interests of the citizenry at heart, unlike the authorities in this case.
Moreover, the state’s compulsion to protect the right to life essentially includes its obligation to endeavor to prevent terrorism. Nevertheless, there are those who persist that “the HRA prevents us from deporting dangerous foreign criminals;” a claim that is evidently ill founded. The belief that the existence of the HRA threatens the safeguarding of the population against terrorism, and even protects terrorists, has meant that the Government has gotten away with slowly passing a number of temporary and emergency laws to counter terrorism that diverge from the HRA. The most recent example is that of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act of 2015. This legislation gives the State the ability to arbitrarily seize passports, which goes against Article 14 of the HRA, and to temporarily exclude someone from the UK, which not only does not adhere to the HRA’s declaration that “everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,” but also breaches Article 5 and Article 8, which guarantee the right to liberty and the right to a private family life, respectively. The UK is now second place in the world for detaining the largest number of asylum seekers, preceded only by Australia. The Government is employing the same brutal and insensitive ways of the terrorists that it condemns, and its desire to replace the HRA with the “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” will only promote these cruel actions. The Conservative Government has proudly announced that the Bill will deny the appeal of those who pose a national security risk to remain in the UK, since such an appeal is based on “questionable human rights claims.” This inhumane way of dealing with a grave situation is not how a resolution for terrorism will be found.
There are also those who erroneously believe and promote the notion that the HRA is an unnecessary piece of legislation since British Common Law and Magna Carta guaranteed the rights of British people for years before the HRA was formulated. Although this is not a false judgment, the limitation of British Common Law is that it does not address how best to remedy situations where Human Rights are ignored or undermined. Moreover, neither British Common Law nor Magna Carta protect freedom of speech, or the right to protest-rights that British people take for granted in everyday life. Before the HRA, Britain’s reputation as a guarantor of human rights was not as established or marked as it is today, and if the Act is revoked, the UK might see a return to the habits and norms which were prevalent in repressive and outmoded times.
The “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” is solely concerned with what it means to be British, and not human. The lack of the word itself in the title is sufficient proof of this. If this motion goes forward, and the Conservative Government achieves its goal, it will mark a terrible betrayal of the extraordinary efforts of human rights activists around the world, from Britain’s own ‘Levellers’ in the 15th century, to the endeavors of people like Lech Walesa, Shirin Abadi, Alice Walker, and Amal Alamuddin. How can the Conservative Government call on countries such as Syria and Egypt to observe human rights, and continue to condemn their actions as “inhumane,” when they themselves have forgotten what humanity entails?
Malak Azer, Staff Writer