Further threats to our human rights proposed


Suella Braverman, the attorney general, proposes further action to counter the influence of the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR

The onslaught on the UK’s human rights continues apace. In a recent speech to the Policy Exchange thinktank, Ms Braverman argues for radical action to counter the influence of ECHR rules on UK legal affairs. This latest attack is almost certainly triggered by the decision of the European Court to prevent the deportation to Rwanda of a number of immigrants. This occurred almost minutes before the plane was due to take off from Boscombe Down airfield, a mile or two from where this is being written.

The government is evidently determined to reduce several key rights enjoyed by British people sometimes for centuries. A new act will make it harder to protest and gives the police and ministers greater powers to carry curtail them. The ability to seek judicial review is also to be curtailed. The ability to strike is to be subject to yet further restrictions. The Human Rights Act itself is to be abolished and replaced with a Bill of Rights which will be weaker. The weight of legislation, current or proposed, will together amount to a significant reduction in the ability of ordinary people to hold the government to account. We must also add sustained attacks on the BBC, its journalists and its funding, and the intention to sell off Channel 4 which are both seen as irritants.

We discussed in an earlier post, Ms Braverman’s dubious and we argued – quite inappropriate – attitude towards torture, echoing the arguments of Prof Posner of Chicago. We referenced an article in the Observer which showed that several of her claims about her career were of doubtful veracity: no record could be found for example of a supposed contribution to a legal text book. Her claims about the chambers she worked in were also questioned. She was one of the candidates to become Britain’s new prime minister.

In a review of her speech in the Guardian, she is quoted as saying:

[…] a culture where fringe campaign groups, purporting to champion rights, have claimed a moral high ground and have adopted an attitude of intolerance. Often with vastly inflated salaries and armed with a Newspeak dictionary, they have created mighty citadels of grievance across the public sector and made huge inroads into the private sector

Guardian, 11 August 20122, p5

She further claims that the UK now has a ‘rights culture’. One of the problems in discussing her comments and speeches is that few examples are given to illustrate the points she is making. She attacks the judiciary, the human rights community and is vociferous about ‘woke’ matters. She continues in office largely because of her loyalty to the outgoing prime minister, Boris Johnson. As Attorney General, she has to pursue a difficult balancing act. She is both law officer to the government and a member of the government, one of those peculiarly British positions which is fundamentally absurd but previous post holders have acquitted well. Ms Braverman has not, perhaps because of her loyalty to a prime minister who was forced to resign because of one scandal too many.

The concern is that the rhetoric and legislation which comes from it are becoming a danger. Human rights are seen as a threat. Quite how this ‘rights culture’ has damaged the interest of British citizens is never explained. She shares with Dominic Raab a dislike of protest, the judiciary and the European Court and they seek to weaken all of them, eagerly supported by the right wing press. Our system of government, imperfect as it is, is built on the notion of checks and balances. They seek to garner more power to themselves and, by more and more legislation, reduce the opportunity for challenge by protest or via the judiciary.

This post was written without using a Newspeak dictionary.

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Bill of Rights consultation


Government invites consultation on its Bill of Rights – but are they listening?

Dubbed by some as the ‘Rights Removal Bill’ the Bill of Rights is currently before Parliament and the government is inviting comments which can be accessed via the EachOther site. The bill has attracted considerable criticism and overall is likely to reduce the rights that people currently enjoy. A number of Conservative politicians have been unhappy with the Human Rights Act which they wish to see replaced with this Bill of Rights. Successive party manifestos have promised its abolition.

In a previous post we drew attention to a book published by the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab which goes someway to explaining the thinking and beliefs which led to this bill. We looked at some of the arguments in the book, Assault on Liberty (Harper Collins, 2009), which have led to the current bill. It claims that there is now an ‘arsenal of rights’ and this is reflected in the introductory remarks which refer to ‘mission creep’. We said that the history was of doubtful merit: the argument being that the country achieved greatness because of its freedoms and liberties and by inference, its decline came about because we have become rule bound of which the HRA is but one culprit. It is part of the small government and limited regulation which some conservative MPs desire. Significantly, the book is peppered with quotes from the Daily Mail which has carried a large number of stories critical of the act. The paper has also directly criticised judges on its front page, calling them ‘enemies of the people’ yet Liz Truss, when she was Justice Secretary, failed to support them until shamed into doing so.

Print media influence

The paper, along with others newspapers from time to time, have produced a series of stories critical of the act. Some are pure inventions and some claim the act is responsible when in fact it has been other legislation which has stoked their ire. Where positive stories appear, for example Hillsborough, the role of the act in achieving justice is downplayed or not mentioned. Readers of the Daily Mail where not told when it itself used the act to protect journalistic sources. The role of the media is important because over the years they have encouraged a negative view of the act to take hold claiming it aids criminals and help all sorts of undesirable people to escape justice by using, in a spurious way, some clause or other thus alleging justice cannot be served because it is their ‘human right’. It has enabled politicians to bring forward this bill safe in the knowledge that sections of the public have been primed over a period of decades to view the act as a thoroughly bad lot and the sooner it is done away with the better. Throw in Europe and the European Court overruling parliament and the scene is set.

If we look at the range of bills and acts, we see a pattern of thinking where laws are introduced to limit protest, restricting access to judicial review, proposals to limit the right to strike still further, and increased police powers amounting collectively to a real step backwards for the liberties of the individual. Taken with the Bill of Rights if it becomes law in its current form, the trend is worrying.

The Bill

The bill has a number of aims. It seeks to dilute ‘positive obligations‘ on public authorities. In view of the current state of the police – one such authority – where a number of forces have been hit by scandal after scandal and several are in special measures, this seems to be particularly inappropriate. It is claimed that the bill will further hurt women’s rights. The already abysmally low level of prosecutions for rape with an even lower level of convictions, will not be helped if the requirement for positive obligations is diluted.

It introduces a permissive stage, a kind of trial before a trial. Since the justice system is already in a state of crisis with extensive delays before a case can come to court, this will have the effect of delaying matters still further. It will also add to costs.

European Court judgements will no longer be part of domestic law. The Supreme Court will also have superiority over the Strasbourg court which is where we came in really. The problem was always that people failed to get justice in the UK courts and had to go to Strasbourg to get it. In a significant number of cases, Strasbourg overruled the UK courts and this became more and more embarrassing. Hence the introduction of the HRA. The Assault on Liberty referred to above is notable for its romantic view of the past and our justice system. The desire to remove Strasbourg from the scene relies on the fantasy of the British justice system being somehow superior. Yet many of our judges, being a product of a very narrow education and from a small part of society, have often shown themselves to be reactionary and out of touch. There was no glorious past which the Justice Secretary seems to think has been taken away. This is discussed in more detail in Conor Gearty’s book, On Fantasy Island (OUP, 2016).

Finally, the desire for rights and responsibilities to be introduced. This is connected in some way to the idea that rights are conditional on good behaviour and that irresponsible behaviour – however that is defined – makes someone less deserving.

The Chair of Joint Committee on Human Rights JCHR, Joanna Cherry QC MP has said that the bill is an ‘unfortunate regression in rights protection’ and has written to the Justice Secretary in those terms.

The local Amnesty group is opposed to the bill. The local Salisbury MP, Mr John Glen has stated he wishes to see the HRA abolished and will be supporting the new bill.

We urge people to submit their views to government while there is still time. As we write (2 August), Liz Truss, seems favourite to become the new prime minister in which case it is certain to become law.

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Human Rights and the new PM


The likely human rights policies of the new prime minister are becoming clearer. Both are decidedly negative

In a previous post we commented on Rishi Sunak’s attitude to human rights if he becomes prime minister. At the time he looked to be the favourite as he had the most votes from his fellow Conservative MPs. His prospects look to be less clear now and there is a distinct prospect that Liz Truss will succeed when the Conservative party supporters vote. The reason is that they are largely from an older generation, mostly white and and live in the south of England. They are fearful of immigration and this may have led both contestants to ‘up the ante’ with regard to immigration and human rights.

Rishi Sunak has consistently voted against socio-economic policies which may benefit the poorest in our society. He has voted against policies which would tackle tax avoidance which in turn means the Treasury is denied billions of pounds of revenue which could be used for investing in our infrastructure.

Both Truss and Sunak are not exactly enthusiastic for environmental matters. Sunak has voted against on-shore wind turbines and Truss wants to abolish the Green Levy.

Both are against retaining the European Charter on Fundamental Human Rights and the abolition of the Human Rights Act to be replaced by a new Bill of Rights the details of which are awaited.

Both are keen on the Rwanda deportation policy and Truss is keen to extend it to other countries as well. Sunak has promised to increase the size of the Border Force and also introduce storage of immigrants in cruise ships moored around the UK.

There seems to be something of an arms race between them with daily statements by their supporters and in speeches promising to make immigration harder than ever to achieve. It seems to be to appeal to this narrow group of people who will vote for the new PM, who are thought to be anti-immigrants and want to see ever tougher action against them, particularly those arriving by boat. Some of these hostile attitudes are promoted by sections of our media, a pattern we have seen for some years. It is difficult to say whether it is the tail wagging the dog however. Whatever the outcome, it is depressing to note the desire by both candidates to express their hostility to human rights and the plight of immigrants.

In all these claims for ever tougher policies, the issue of legality has been raised. It is not just European laws but treaties we have signed over the years which make carrying out aggressive policies in this area difficult.

Rishi Sunak is supported in his bid to be PM by our local MP for Salisbury, Mr John Glen. His wish to see the Human Rights Act repealed is well known and his They Work For You profile shows his general antipathy to human rights. The question is to what extent does he support these ever more aggressive attitudes to immigrants and asylum seekers? Perhaps he should be asked …

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Rishi Sunak MP


If Sunak becomes the new prime minister, what can we expect on the human rights front?

Rishi Sunak is, at the time of writing (15 July 2022), in the lead in the race to become the new prime minister of the UK. Asking about his attitude and voting record in connection with human rights is therefore of considerable interest. It doesn’t look good.

They Work for You, the site which analyses MP’s voting records shows that Sunak ‘generally votes against laws to promote equality and human rights’. He voted against retaining the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. He is in favour of repealing the Human Rights act which has been Conservative party policy for some years now and a draft Bill of Rights is awaited.

When asked about withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights he is quoted as saying (vaguely) ‘all options [were] on the table’.

He has voted consistently for policies to increase mass surveillance.

He is in favour – despite being the grandson of an immigrant from Africa – for sending immigrants to Rwanda.

Altogether a grim collection of negative attitudes and there seem to be no speeches or much information about his attitudes or likely policies on this important subject. There was nothing in his manicured promotion video. It very much looks like we shall get the existing policies carried forward unchanged. He seems to be part of the party which is hostile to human rights, wants to see them rolled back and to detach the country from European norms and treaties.

He is supported in the election by the MP for Salisbury Mr John Glen who likewise has a record of voting against equality and human rights issues according to They Work for You.

Sources: Open Access Government; LBC; Metro; They Work for You [we carried out an extensive search for any other relevant material but were unable to find any]

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Refugee Report – June


Refugee Summary

Following the frenetic events of the last week, it is probably worth taking a moment to see where we stand on the refugee front, 60 years after the first Commonwealth Immigrants Act began the process of legislating against incomers. The Nationality and Borders Act has now brought into force more of its provisions, including a Home Office explanation of  ”differentiation” between different types of refugee (the proposed two-tier system).  The effect is that it will take longer for some arrivals to be granted residency and harder for them to bring family to join them, but the changes are not huge, according to human rights lawyer, Colin Yeo, who commented:

The policy exemplifies Priti Patel’s modern Home Office.  It pretends to be tough as old boots but in reality it creates genuine but fairly minor problems for very vulnerable people with no likely policy outcomes achieved.  What it does do is make more work for officials, thereby worsening the backlogs in the asylum system.  It is not just pointless; it is actually counterproductive.

However, AI has commented in its monthly report to local groups the effect of the government’s effective withdrawal from the UN Refugee Convention (See foot of page).

The Afghanistan Citizens’ Resettlement Scheme (ACRS), which had opened in January, and is meant to take 20,000 refugees, has now added guidance on those seeking to come via Pathway 3 (mostly employees of UK organisations in Afghanistan).  Three groups have been established; those who had places allocated, but missed out (who will be assisted); those who came via the UNHCR (who can now begin to be referred) and those others at risk, such as women and girls (1500 places allocated).

In May, 2,871 migrants were apprehended crossing the Channel by small boat compared with 1,627 in May 2021, a 75% increase. Similarly, during the first three months of 2022, 4,540 people were detected arriving by small boats compared with 7,432 during the last half of April, May and June after the MoD took over.  The Navy is said to be keen to be let off enforcing control f the Channel, a policy on which they were not consulted.

By mid-June 77,000 Ukrainian refugees had entered the UK and 135,000 visas issued.  It may be noted that Germany has so far taken 700,000 refugees.

Although the courts have not yet decided whether offshoring asylum seekers to Rwanda is lawful, the Home Office plans further flights.  The HO said “No court has actually ruled that this partnership is unlawful and that includes the ECHR.”  Thanks are due to group members Peter and Lesley for protesting the planned flight from Boscombe Down and subsequent press appearances.

On the subject of tagging claimants, a 12-month pilot scheme is planned to test its value as a monitor and for collecting data – it is already in use for those on bail.

On the vexed issue of the actual ages of asylum seekers, the Home Office is recruiting 40 social workers to help assess claimants’ ages using “scientific” methods.

Statistics
  • Asylum claims Jan-Mar 2022 12,508 (for 2021 2,022)
  • Main countries of departure – Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea
  • Number waiting more than 6 months for a decision Q1 70,000 in 2017 the number was 14,000)
  • 75% of applicants receive grants of protection (Syrians are at 98%).
  • It is worth noting that the equivalent percentage in 2010 was 25% and in 1995 4% (with fewer applicants, iof course).
  • The number of enforced returns in 2020 was 3,000 (in 2010 15,000),
  • And voluntary returns 5,000 (against 30,000).

Clearly, asylum seekers are far more likely to be granted residence now than in earlier years, but are subject to far longer waits for the process to complete. Whether the new Act will alter this is open to debate.

Also: –

The Napier Barracks, which became notorious as an inadequate location for prospective arrivals, has been deemed to have improved since the original aim.  No immigrants now will spend more than 90 days there.

A Lords Committee looking into the document “Life in the UK”, prepared for those seeking settlement or citizenship, have described it as a “random election of obscure facts and subjective assertions.”

Refugee Week was held in late June this year, but passed with disappointingly little media coverage. AI supported a number of events under the umbrella.

Amnesty’s comment on the new refugee legislation:

On 28th June, the UK’s interpretation of the definition of a refugee and the rights to which every person who is a refugee is entitled will significantly change from that required by the Refugee Convention. What does this mean? It means the government is unlawfully rewriting its shared obligations under international law. To the extent, it is dangerously undermining what our country, not only agreed to, but helped draft and negotiate in 1951. 

These changes are lawless and reckless.  Its consequences directly contradict our values of shared humanity and compassion and have been rightly rejected by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, leading lawyers, and former senior judges in the UK.

Here are five things you need to know:

  1. The evidence refugees need to provide will become overly obstructive and wrongly prevent some refugees from proving their status and rights, making the lives of people that have fled war and persecution even harder.
  2. People who claim asylum based on their sexual identity or orientation being the cause of the persecution they face, will need to meet extra tests.  This will exclude thousands from the asylum they are entitled to and that they need to safeguard them from persecution.
  3. Refugees that arrive or enter the UK without prior permission will be penalised, both by criminal prosecution, imprisonment and by exclusion from their full rights to asylum in the UK, directly violating the Refugee Convention. 
  4. It will lead to the government refusing asylum to those who arrive or enter the UK without prior permission, presenting a grave risk that people are sent back to torture and other forms of persecution.
  5. It will discriminate between refugees in the UK by denying many of them their full and equal rights to asylum under the Refugee Convention. It will leave them:
  6. Insecure by periods of short-term permission to stay that must be constantly renewed by formal application
  7. Impoverished by exclusion from public funds
  8. Separated from family by denying or delaying family reunion rights.

Andrew Hemming

Death penalty report, June/July


We are pleased to attach the latest death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling this. There is a lot this time about Ukraine and as usual, the USA and its tortuous processes especially in the southern states. Note that there is no report on China which is believed to execute more of its citizens that the rest of the world combined but where information is a state secret.

Threats to our rights


List of acts and bills which, individually and collectively, impinge on our rights

There is mounting concern that the tide of legislation currently in the process of enactment, will shift power away from the people and give greater powers to the police and the government itself.

Enacted legislation:

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Act 2022

Elections Act 2022

Nationality and Borders Act 2022

Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022

Serious Threats from current bills

Bill of Rights

National Security Bill

Online Safety Bill

Public Order Bill

Lesser Threatscollectively Important

Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill

Brexit Freedoms Bill

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Modern Slavery Bill

Draft Victims Bill

Data Reform Bill

Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Bill

Conversion Therapy Bill

Draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill

Energy Bill

Private Renters Bill

Social Housing Regulation Bill

Schools Bill

Possible Threat – under consideration

Locking On

The above is just a list. Below we provide a little more explanation and a brief summary of what they are about.

Some do not attack Human Rights directly. Rather they undermine our access to our human rights or circumvent them altogether so although we may have in law a ‘right’ we cannot, or will not be able, in some circumstances enforce them or rely on them for protection.

What is important is their collective impact. They each chip away here and there at our rights, and some expressly bypass Human Rights legislation (whether the HRA of Bill of Rights). Secondly, they demonstrate the little importance the current governments attach to our liberties, freedoms and our right to express our opinions. Thirdly, the very clear trend they represent to ever greater centralised government control. If they are all enacted and become law then the government will have increased their control significantly. The National Security Bill and the Public Order Bill combined could result in a Police State.

Summaries of what some of the bills and acts contain:

Serious Threats
Bill of RightsA government power grab.  It is a much weakened version of the 1998 Human Rights Act.
National Security BillMinisters and UK officials cannot be charged for crimes they order or encourage overseas – ordering assassinations or the commission of war crimes. It puts the government above challenge, undermines our right to hold government accountable, giving us less say, and government becomes more authoritarian and closer to becoming a dictatorship.
Online Safety BillIntended to protect the right of free speech and expression, prevent the circulation of misinformation, threats and unsavoury content, particularly in social media, but it will not apply to the government and those in public office. Gives more control to the government.
Could be used to stop criticism of the government.
Public Order BillAn extension of the Police and Crime Bill. It has been described as authoritarian and repressive. It gives the police wide discretion and greater powers, introduces control orders and enables stop and search without reason.
Lesser Threats
Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) BillNot compatible with Human Rights. Bypasses police, courts, protections and enables substantial government interference in the process of law and the right of defence/protection.
Brexit Freedoms BillGetting rid of and remaining EU protections.
Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) BillPrevents Universities and Student Unions blocking [no-platforming] speakers thus enabling ‘objectionable opinions’ to be validated. Especially Far-Right, anti LGBT and racism views.
Modern Slavery Bill
Draft Victims BillIt doesn’t protect personal data, from excess police intrusion or provide sufficient support for marginalised groups.
Data Reform BillScraps GDPR ‘red tape’ and lowers barriers to restrict access to personal data.
Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions BillComplex. BDS is an Israeli/Palestine issue. The wider context is about using BDS to control ‘overseas’ issues. The bill gives greater central control to government.
Conversion Therapy Bill
Draft Mental Health Act Reform BillWe have a right to good mental health, and to be treated with dignity and respect. Questionable protections under the Bill of Rights.
Energy BillUndermines the right to affordable energy, safe energy good for the environment, climate, not to be cut-off, not to be forced to have repayment meters.
Private Renters BillConflicts with HRs and gives government Renters Ombudsman opportunity to ignore HRs (peaceful possession/occupation). Complex overlapping with property law. Could be good for renters but shifts final say away from HRs to the government decisions. Renters will not be able to use HRs to challenge Ombudsman decisions.
Social Housing Regulation BillGives central government greater control, the discretion to side step HRs
Schools BillGives Government great control over education to FE level. Has the potential to remove teachers/schools not following an agreed narrative. To close schools without notice or appeal.
Possible Threat
Locking OnMaking Locking-on a specific criminal offence.

Mike Hodgson

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