UPDATE: 5 May … still no sign of a draft of what the British Bill of Rights will contain. People go to the polls in a couple of days time without knowing what is planned. Since the election campaign has been based largely on the deficit and who is going to spend the most on the NHS, oh and being run by Scotland: what is, or is not, in the BBoR may seem trivial. But it touches on all our rights and on our relationship with Europe so it is important.
The #Conservative party #manifesto was published today 14 April and as promised, there is a plan to scrap the Human rights Act #HRA. The manifesto says on p73:
We will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights which will restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK. The Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights. It will protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which are an essential part of a modern democratic society. But it will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of a wider society. Among other things the Bill will stop terrorists and other serious criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.
This will have profound implications in our relations with Europe and we still do not know what the new bill will look like even after many years of discussion about the abolition of the HRA. Incidentally, although the Act was introduced under the Labour administration, it was voted for by many Conservatives as well.
A draft of the BBoR has been a long time a coming and the latest we heard was that it was to be published before Christmas. One assumes a draft will now appear before polling so that voters can see in more detail how it differs from the existing HRA.
The Conservatives seem to have got themselves into something of a bind with this Act. They were happy to go along with the anti-European sentiment expressed by most of our newspapers and were obviously spooked by the Ukip surge over the last few years. There has been a torrent of misinformation and disinformation about the workings of the HRA which, apart from the honourable exception of Dominic Grieve MP, they have made little or no attempt to counter with facts.
What got them steamed up most of all – and got our tabloids into a fearsome lather – was the case of Abu Qatada or the ‘preacher of hate’ as he was called. Many attempts were made to deport him but the problem was not just the HRA but the fact that he might be tortured when he was returned to Jordan, or the Jordanians would convict him using evidence obtained from torturing others. Is this an example of ‘spurious human rights arguments’? Since, quite apart from the ECHR, we are signatories to treaties banning the use of torture, there was a problem in getting him out of the country in any event. We might note in passing that the Jordanians had to clean up their judicial act as part of the agreement to send him back.
A puzzle though is that the other area which gets politicians steamed up is the issue of a right to life yet this is quoted as being ‘an essential part of a modern democratic society.’ Something about a cat.
The fact remains that many ordinary people are beneficiaries of the Act. Lawyers can use it in their day to day work with individuals and their dealings with authorities of one kind or another. Little of this gets published in the media and most are unaware of it unless by chance they know of someone who has benefited.
As far as the Strasbourg court is concerned, the UK are the ‘good guys’ since we still have a largely uncorrupted police and judiciary and people can appeal decisions in cases of injustice. Our police operate under PACE and suspects have a right to a lawyer. Very few of the cases which go to Strasbourg get overturned – we believe there were only eight last year.
As one of the original countries, along with France, who prepared the ECHR after the war at the behest of Winston Churchill – a Conservative – if we leave the Convention it will have significant repercussions in places like Belarus, Turkey and Russia. Belarus is the last country in Europe with the death penalty and human rights are largely ignored.
It will be interesting to see how our local Conservative candidate John Glen reacts to this. When he came to see the local group to discuss this topic he did agree to be more balanced in his comments which we welcomed. This followed an article in the Salisbury Journal saying he wanted it abolished. But now it is part of the manifesto for his party we shall have to see…