Leading or following?
The Human Rights Act HRA remains under threat from the Conservative Government who promised in their manifesto to abolish it. There is speculation that it was put in the manifesto to appeal to Ukip supporters and those for whom anything with ‘Europe’ attached to it is bad news. They were expecting to be in a coalition again – so the theory goes – and the LibDems would not have allowed it to go ahead. In other words it was a promise unlikely to be put into effect but sounded good in the manifesto.
Now that they are in power on their own they are faced with a problem. Abolition will prove extremely difficult for all sorts of reasons. Reform is difficult if you have nailed your colours to the abolition mast. The Scots will not countenance it and the recent proposal to allow hunting with dogs to be re-introduced was effectively ended by the Scot Nats who demonstrated their influence in Parliament. It also underpins the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland. It may also mean us withdrawing from the European Council. It will send a very negative message to those countries, such as Russia, who are being pressed to improve their human rights records, a point made by Dominic Grieve QC MP when he came, at our invitation, to speak in the Cathedral.
Just over a year ago our local MP John Glen (Con) wrote to the Salisbury Journal to say he was keen on abolition. Our group wrote to Mr Glen and after an exchange of letters, a meeting was arranged in June 2014. At that meeting, the many unreported benefits of the act were explained and that these benefits were likely to apply to a number of his constituents. The battle that individuals have with authorities of all kinds to get a fair deal is made that bit easier by the Human Rights Act.
Unfortunately, the act gets a near universal bad press certainly from the tabloid end of the market. An incessant series of articles claiming that all kinds of evil people escape justice because they can claim the right to a ‘family life’ or it’s their ‘human right’, inevitably infuriates people reading it. Frequently, it isn’t the HRA at all but some other piece of legislation involved. No matter. Some of the stories are hugely exaggerated or just plain wrong. But the benefits to ordinary people seldom gets a mention.
In the latest edition of Valley News (a free sheet in the Salisbury area, July 2015) Mr Glen writes:
[…] This month also marked the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. In addition to some spectacular celebrations, this has re-opened the debate about human rights here in the UK.
Too often I hear from constituents who are fed up with some of the decisions made in our courts and in the EU, about human rights laws.
While these cases represent only a small minority, I do not believe we should simply turn a blind eye to them. A recent opinion poll suggested three quarters of the UK felt that human rights laws were being applied too widely.
It is far from healthy in our democracy to accept this status quo: human rights should be celebrated, and I hope we seize the opportunity of the Magna Carta anniversary to restore some confidence in them at home.
We do not know how many constituents have written to Mr Glen or the topics they are concerned about. He makes no mention of benefits to ordinary people and to some of his constituents. But if his correspondents have read tendentious stories in our media, it is hardly surprising they write to their local MP. For example a Daily Mail journalist spoke of the HRA ‘[which] blights every aspect of our life.’
Maybe one of the reasons these papers do not like the act is because there is the right to privacy within it. There is no mention of benefits to ordinary people. Since many newspapers have depended on intrusion – using both legal and often illegal means – to get their stories, this represents quite a threat to their business model.
Human rights should indeed be celebrated as Mr Glen says and we hope he can do some celebrating. But it does need politicians of courage to stand up and defend the act and the many beneficial effects it has on the lives of ordinary – or should we say ‘ordinary hard-working’ – people’s lives. At our meeting with Mr Glen he was asked if he was just repeating stories from the Daily Mail. He said he did not but that he did have to read it to understand what his constituents were writing to him about. We can only hope that ‘to restore some confidence in [human rights]’ means explaining the benefits, countering the myths and criticising the many misleading stories. In short, putting the case for the act.
A new web site established with the sole purpose of countering the misinformation and disinformation about human rights is www.rightsinfo.org which is well worth putting in your favourites.