The government is proposing to issue a public consultation on scrapping the Human Rights Act sometime in the autumn.
Rights Info has only been going four months but has already begun to establish itself in the human rights world. It is dedicated to providing accurate information on the subject of human rights. This is extremely important now because the present government would like to repeal the Human Rights Act (HRA) and replace it with their own Human Rights and Responsibilities act (or whatever it may be called). This has been promised for several years and we await details in due course.
The government is egged on by a media which regularly produces inaccurate or exaggerated stories of the workings of the act, often tying it into the European Convention on Human Rights, presenting it as an unwarranted intrusion into our legal processes. The fact that it was British and French lawyers who prepared the ECHR – at Churchill’s behest – based on basic principles of justice established over many years, seems to have been forgotten. As we have noted before, the act is of great benefit to ordinary citizens in the UK who use it to secure justice from authorities.
Rights Info has been providing a source of information to counter the tide of misinformation from newspapers and some politicians. They have just launched a similar exercise to provide information about the European Court which also gets a bad press. It is called The European Court of Human Rights Uncovered. One of the examples it gives concerns the total number of applications and judgements. There have been 22,781 applications against the UK. Number of judgements is just 513 of which the court found at least one violation to be 301. 301 over 22,781 is 1.32%. The Sun newspaper reports this as ‘UK loses 60% of cases’.
Terrorism cases get a lot of publicity with the impression given that they are winning cases all over the place. In 40 years (1975 – 2015) out of 297 cases, just 14 were terrorists. 203 were ‘other people’ that is ordinary citizens in their fights against authorities of one kind or another.
Over the coming months we are likely to see an increase in bad news stories about the HRA and the European Court as the government seeks to soften up the public ahead of its plans to abolish it. It is useful to know that there is a source of accurate information to go to.
We attach an urgent action concerning Iran, which along with Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia are the world’s leading executioners of its citizens. This concerns a juvenile who was 15 at the time of the alleged crime. He was charged with the murder of a friend but was denied access to a lawyer at the investigation stage and he alleges he was tortured in custody.
His execution has been delayed to 10 August so this case is urgent. It is believed that an astonishing 72 juveniles have been executed between 2005 and 2014 and around 160 are currently on death row.
Please write if you have time.
In a previous post (20 July) we reported on the correspondence we had with Mr Glen MP concerning the government’s policy towards Saudi Arabia. This was prompted by the increasing number of executions and public floggings taking place in that country. Both are at high levels and are greater than the previous year. We noted that the president of France had made public statements condemning this practice. We might also have noted that Sweden has suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Mr Glen forwarded a letter from a FCO minister Mr Tobias Ellwood saying that these matters were raised with the Saudi authorities and that it was a ‘human rights priority for the UK government’. Because it was part of Sharia law they did not anticipate change in the near future however.
There the matter might have rested. But on 3 August it was reported widely in the press that the FCO has dropped any explicit reference to the abolition of the death penalty. In response to the cuts, they are relabelling its six global thematic priorities of which the abolition of the death penalty world wide was one. There are now to be three, relating to human rights; democratic values and the rule of law. Reference to the death penalty has gone. The ‘human rights countries of priority’ is to be replaced with the more anodyne ‘human rights priority countries’.
We noted at the end of the last blog that the reason for the lack of open criticism by the government was almost certainly connected with arms sales to Saudi.
Then, in the current issue of Private Eye (6 August No 1397) they report that Tobias Ellwood had accepted Saudi hospitality to a attend a £6,000 a head fact-finding visit organised by the arms industry lobby group UK Defence Forum. This took place in 2013 when there were bribery allegations concerning Saudi defence deals and the defence giant EADS. The Private Eye piece was in connection with Mr Tobias’s complaint at having to ‘watch the pennies’ on his MP and ministerial salary.
So in just over a week after sending us the letter, the FCO seems to have downgraded its policy on the death penalty. This is deeply disappointing and it seems strange that Mr. Ellwood appeared unaware that the policy was to change only days after sending his reply to us. We shall be raising these matters with Mr. Glen.
The #minutes of the #July meeting are now available thanks to Andrew for preparing them. The item on the death penalty can be found elsewhere on this blog. The next meeting is in September. The picture shows Amnesty’s director Kate Allen speaking at the Cathedral sixth form conference as part of Magna Carta.