The Salisbury group invited John Glen MP to speak to the group following his comments in the Salisbury Journal that – in common with other MPs, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary Teresa May – he would like to scrap the Human Rights Act [HRA] #HRA. The Conservatives in their election manifesto had said they wanted to enact a Bill of Rights [BoR] and appointed a Commission to review the matter. It failed to reach an agreement and there the matter has rested with no current work being done to draft a BoR. Nevertheless, there is still political agitation to abolish the #HRA. A key theme of the evening was trying to determine what would the difference be between a new Bill of Rights and the existing HRA. In other words what would be included and what left out.
Andrew – chair of the local group – welcomed Mr Glen who began by saying he was a keen supporter of human rights. He was a member of The Westminster Foundation for Democracy and had recently visited Iran, Egypt and the Maldives. In the first two countries he discussed the plight of Christians with the authorities. He had recently asked a question* in the House of Commons concerning the Israel/Palestine conflict.
As far as the HRA was concerned the main issue was the question of the interaction with the European Court: Strasbourg [rulings] should be taken into account, not be binding. A proposal for a British BoR will possibly be in the party manifesto. He was concerned about some of the claims made using the act and he mentioned the issue of equipment in Afghanistan. Various points were put to Mr Glen by members:
- The HRA was passed into UK law to enable claims to be made in this country and to reduce the need to go to Strasbourg. JG said this may have been the intention but was not always the case in practice
- If a Bill of Rights is to be introduced, how would it in fact be different from the HRA as it is?
- The HRA was of enormous benefit to ordinary people – some of whom are [your] constituents. For example, art. 8 protects the elderly and vulnerable. The problem is made worse for many by the reductions in legal aid. JG said he saw people every day with these problems and he was not happy with the Justice reforms. But he was concerned at perverse outcomes and it needs the will of Parliament. It was pointed out that the HRA was by will of Parliament.
- He was asked if the point of a BoR was to fetter the judiciary and again, how will it be different from the HRA?
- It was reported that Strasbourg was concerned at the risk of the UK abandoning the HRA. As we (the UK with France) were the countries behind the original convention, it would concern them if we turned our back on it. The convention had had enormous beneficial effects in Russia and Belarus who might be less keen to change if we were not there. It was also pointed out that the FCO web site was a keen supporter. JG said that without knowing what would replace the act this was a hypothetical question.
- The point was made several times that the positive effects of the act and the cases which fail in the courts, rarely receive publicity. JG agreed with this point. For the most part, there was an anti-attitude fostered by the tabloid press. JG said he was not following a tabloid agenda. He had to read them to know what would be in his post from constituents. He felt had demonstrated his commitment to human rights through his overseas work.
- Prisoner voting rights were a topic that caused a lot of anxiety. Would it not be appropriate to allow prisoners the vote towards the end of their sentences to help prepare them for re-entry into society? JG talked about the importance of education in prisons. He was reminded that funding had been cut for this.
In conclusion, he said he would reflect on the problem of a lack of balance in the public dialogue. He will also consider how refinements to the HRA might obviate the need for a Bill of Rights.
Group members were no clearer on what would be the difference between a Bill of Rights and the HRA but welcomed Mr Glen’s statement that his comments on the latter would be more balanced in future.
Reported on 17 July that the Conservatives are planning to introduce a British Bill of Rights in their manifesto.
View the South region site of Amnesty International
*John Glen’s question in the House: