Saturday, May 16, 2015

The arguments against the Human Rights Act are coming. They will be false

As Michael Gove prepares his attempt to repeal this fundamental act, here’s some myth-busting about what it is, and how it works

In the aftermath of the second world war, nations came together to say “never again”. They established the United Nations and agreed a simple set of universal standards of decency for mankind to cling to: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These standards were intended to protect the individual from the state, to uphold the rights of minorities and to provide support for the vulnerable.

The idea was simple; these standards would first be enshrined in regional treaties such as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and then be given legal effect in every country. In the UK this was achieved when Labour enacted the Human Rights Act (HRA) in 1998.

The incoming Tory government now intends to strip our people of these universal rights by repealing the HRA. Michael Gove has been appointed as the new justice secretary to lead the assault. In a week when we celebrate VE Day, the irony should not be lost. British politicians, many of them Tory, participated in the drafting of the ECHR in Whitehall because they believed that they were drafting an instrument to reflect the values that we in this country took for granted and which, they thought, vindicated our military triumph.

No doubt Gove will peddle the usual myth that the HRA is nothing more than a villains’ charter. But the evidence is against him on that. There has been no fundamental shift in defendants’ rights under the HRA, mainly because legislation passed by the Margaret Thatcher government in 1984 set out clear rights for suspects that have been successfully embedded in our law for many years.

By stark contrast, the HRA has heralded a new approach to the protection of the most vulnerable in our society, including child victims of trafficking, women subject to domestic and sexual violence, those with disabilities and victims of crime. After many years of struggling to be heard, these individuals now have not only a voice, but a right to be protected. The Tory plans to repeal the HRA, together with the restricted access to our courts already brought about by the restriction on judicial review introduced by Gove’s predecessor, Chris Grayling, will silence the vulnerable and leave great swaths of executive action unchecked and unaccountable...