Amnesty webinar: Bill of Rights


Amnesty webinar on the suspended Bill of Rights

21 September 2022

Amnesty ran a webinar on the Bill of Rights on 21st September having planned it when the bill was still a real option on the political calendar. Following the election of Liz Truss as the new prime minister, the bill was dropped. A spokesman said it was ‘unlikely to progress in its current form’.

The webinar was quick to point out that this is probably only a temporary suspension: a new bill was likely to see the light of day at some time in the future. The Conservative party has been hostile to the Human Rights Act for some time and abolishing it was a promise in its last manifesto. One of the problems with the bill one of the speakers noted, was it was rushed following the Rwanda decision by the European Court. It has been described as a ‘mess’ by several critics. One point which came through strongly was that the intention to do something in the way of a new bill if only to assuage the anti-European sentiment by a section of the Conservative party.

Another key element the webinar noted were attitudes to immigration and its related problem, deportation. This has posed severe problems for the government most particularly with people crossing the Channel in small boats the numbers of which have reached record levels. The government has felt itself vulnerable both from those coming in and its inability to deport those who make it to our shores. The desire for more draconian action, which brings us into conflict with the European Court, has been a key driver behind the proposed bill of rights.

Liz Truss has suggested that we may leave the Court which was described as ‘seismic’ in the webinar. The only two countries to leave the jurisdiction have been Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and Greece for its coup. For Britain to leave on the pretext of immigration problems was described as ‘extraordinary’.

A key figure is Dominic Raab MP who as Justice Secretary introduced the bill. Raab is the author of a book called The Assault on Liberty (Harper Collins, 2009) in which he sets out his objections to what is called the ‘rights culture’. A key passage gives an insight into his thinking:

On a daily basis, we read about the steady stream of human rights rulings undermining law enforcement, criminal justice and national security. Common sense turned on its head – warped the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and magnified by Labour’s feckless Human Rights Act – allows human rights to be wielded to protect and compensate serious criminals rather than their victims.

The Assault on Liberty, ibid

There is also the familiar canard of the police unable to rescue a child drowning in a pond because of a health and safety culture. The book provides a useful background to his thinking and possibly, other of his colleagues. The book goes on to argue that the human rights culture is fundamentally at odds with the British notion of liberty. The notion of liberty, which spawns ideas of deregulation, is an important backdrop to the proposed new legislation. The combination of a ‘rights culture’ and an alleged loss of liberty is one of the causes of our decline as a nation.

The government may be tempted to introduce a new immigration bill to get round the Rwanda problem. It is also subject to a constant demand to limit rights which are seen as economically damaging. Although the bill of rights is suspended, the danger is not over. Politicians such as Suella Braverman and Liz Truss are in important positions are firmly wedded to the notion of a reduction in our rights.

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