Bill of Rights


Plans to abolish the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights was set out in the Queen’s Speech given to parliament today (10 May 2022) by Prince Charles (the Queen was indisposed).

The Conservatives have long wanted to rid themselves of the HRA seeing it as a drag on the British legal system, not allowing them to deport foreign criminals at the end of their sentences and providing opportunities for ‘lefty lawyers’ to use spurious grounds of a right to family life to frustrate deportations. Salisbury’s local MP John Glen is one of those who has supported the idea of abolition. The problem all along has been replace it with what? The proposal has appeared in all the recent party manifestos but action has seemed difficult to achieve. The government is keen to capitalise on our departure from Europe (and there are other bills in the speech concerning post Brexit matters) and the role of Strasbourg has long been a thorn they wish to remove. Below is the detail behind the speech:

Bill of Rights

[Extract of the proposed bill of rights legislation from the Queen’s speech]

 “My Government will ensure the constitution is defended. My Ministers will restore the balance of power between the legislature and the courts by introducing a Bill of Rights.”

The purpose of the Bill is to:

● Introduce a Bill of Rights which will ensure our human rights framework meets the needs of the society it serves and commands public confidence.

● End the abuse of the human rights framework and restore some common sense to our justice system. The main benefits of the Bill would be:

● Defending freedom of speech by promoting greater confidence in society to express views freely, thereby enhancing public debate.

● Curbing the incremental expansion of a rights culture without proper democratic oversight, which has displaced due focus on personal responsibility and the public interest.

● Reducing unnecessary litigation and avoiding undue risk aversion for bodies delivering public services.

● Tackling the issue of foreign criminals evading deportation, because their human rights are given greater weight than the safety and security of the public.

The main elements of the Bill are:

● Establishing the primacy of UK case law, clarifying there is no requirement to follow the Strasbourg case law and that UK Courts cannot interpret rights in a more expansive manner than the Strasbourg Court.

● Ensuring that UK courts can no longer alter legislation contrary to its ordinary meaning and constraining the ability of the UK courts to impose ‘positive obligations’ on our public services without proper democratic oversight by restricting the scope for judicial legislation.

● Guaranteeing spurious cases do not undermine public confidence in human rights so that courts focus on genuine and credible human rights claims. The responsibility to demonstrate a significant disadvantage before a human rights claim can be heard in court will be placed on the claimant.

● Recognising that responsibilities exist alongside rights by changing the way that damages can be awarded in human rights claims, for example by ensuring that the courts consider the behaviour of the claimant when considering making an award.

Territorial extent and application

● The Bill will extend and apply across the UK.

Key facts

● An estimated 70 per cent of foreign national offenders who had their deportation overturned in the last five years on human rights grounds in the First Tier Tribunal did so due to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Right to Family Life).

● Between 2005 and 2011, the Prison Service in England and Wales faced successful legal challenges from over 600 prisoners on human rights grounds. This has cost the taxpayer around £7 million, including compensation paid out and legal costs.

[END OF EXTRACT]

What is the Human Rights Act?

The Human Rights Act protects all of us. It brings home fundamental, universal rights we all have as human beings, and allows us to challenge authorities if they violate them. It’s an invisible safety net, working to ensure our rights are respected. It is a crucial defence for the most vulnerable.

We know the Human Rights Act works. It worked for the Hillsborough families in their fight for justice. It worked for the victims of John Worboys. It worked to overturn the near total ban on abortion in Northern Ireland. We don’t need to change it.  

The Police Bill has shown that the government does not want to see protests against its actions. The proposed bill of rights will further weaken the rights of ordinary citizens against the power of the state. Take the clause above ‘guaranteeing spurious cases do not undermine public confidence in human rights …’ Who is to decide what is spurious? A government minister? Or ‘reducing unnecessary legislation to avoid undue risk aversion by public bodies’. Reducing checks on fire safety is almost certainly to be found to be one of the causes of the fire at Grenfell Tower.

The local group will be among many opposing this attack on the HRA. Perhaps the bill should be renamed the ‘Bill of Reduced Rights’?

Film


We return to a film event after an absence of three years

We’re delighted to invite you to join us at the matinee screening of the BAFTA award-winning film Limbo, a wryly touching story of a refugee centre in the Outer Hebrides, showing at Salisbury Arts Centre White Room on Sunday 29 May at 2.30pm.

The Arts Centre are giving Salisbury Amnesty a short introductory slot to update the audience on the subject of refugees and we expect to have a relevant petition for audience members to sign.

It would be lovely if as many of you as possible could support this matinee screening, especially as it has been some time since our last public collaboration with the Arts Centre and we would like this to continue into the future. 

Booking is now open on 01722 320333 and also online at www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk.

Tickets are £9 and the film lasts I hour 44 minutes.  There is a lift to the White Room Studio. Masks are encouraged but no longer obligatory and you will be sitting next to other people as this isn’t a socially distanced performance.

We hope you are all well and we look forward very much to seeing you at this witty and moving film.

Starmer denies apartheid report


Sir Keir Starmer – leader of the UK Labour Party – does not accept the Amnesty report on Apartheid in Isreal

Sir Keir is quoted today* saying that ‘he did not accept the findings of the Amnesty report that Israel is an apartheid state’. This was said in connection with a visit by representatives of the Israeli Labor party in London.

Amnesty is not the only organisation to find that Israel is running an apartheid state. In January 2021, B’Tselem – an organisation based in Israel – produced a detailed report which concluded the same thing. This was followed by Human Rights Watch in July who also produced an extremely detailed report which also concluded that Israel was an apartheid state. Then there was the Amnesty report in February this year closely followed by the UN special rapporteur’s report in March. Four trusted organisations, all of whom producing factual and detailed reports and all concluding that Israel was indeed running an apartheid state as far as the Palestinians were concerned. Exactly as in South Africa, rights were removed, homes were demolished, movement restricted and two sets of laws created for Jews and Palestinians.

It is therefore extremely difficult for Sir Keir Starmer to deny the conclusions of the Amnesty report without also denying all the others. The Labour party was bedevilled by allegations of anti-Semitism during the Corbyn years a stain which still remains. Unfortunately, any criticism of the state is met by claims of anti-Semitism. All the above reports were so condemned.

Sir Keir is no doubt sincere in his desire to rid his party of any anti-Semitism. But he will not do that by denying the facts. If he does not accept the Amnesty report (and by extension all the others) he should rebut it item by item. It is disappointing that someone who wants to become leader of the country and import some integrity into our politics, should act so cravenly.

*Guardian 29 April 2022

Further link added 1 May 2022

Nationality and Borders bill to become law


The Nationality and Borders bill was passed by parliament yesterday

Despite widespread criticism – including from its own backbenchers – the Nationality and Borders bill was passed by parliament on 27 April 2022. The bill has been contentious from the start and there were doubts that it would actually reach the stature book.

One of its principle aims has been to reduce people smuggling. It is highly unlikely to achieve that. Indeed, several of its aims, according to a wide range of critics, are unlikely to be achieved and even made worse.

It is truly a bleak day for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution

Amnesty International

By making it next to impossible to claim asylum from outside the UK, the government has created the perfect conditions for smuggling to survive. The idea that you cure a problem by simply outlawing it seems to be deep rooted in the Home Office and by the Home Secretary. The experience of banning alcohol in the US – which led directly to a massive increase in crime and bootlegging – and declaring drugs illegal, which has led to a multi-billion pound/dollar drug industry, seems lost on the government. The harder the government makes it for people fleeing conflict or persecution, the more the smugglers will step in to sell their wares. Yet Priti Patel seems to believe the opposite.

People arriving on the coast of Kent in flimsy boats and dinghies, led to a tabloid outrage and as ever, prompted the government to introduce bills such as this and to propose the Rwanda programme.

The Salisbury MP, John Glen, voted in favour of the bill.

Reforming the Human rights Act


Will the proposed ‘reforms’ lessen our rights?

For some considerable time, the Conservatives have nagged at the Human Rights Act (HRA) and reforming it has been a standard feature of all recent election manifestos. Abolition has been promised but not delivered. Paradoxically, it was a Conservative government which played a key role in achieving the Universal Declaration and the HRA itself was a cross party bill (despite modern claims that it was ‘Labour’s Human Rights Act’).

Attitudes to the Act have in part been shaped by media stories particularly at the tabloid end of the market. There have many stories criticising the act and particular decisions. Some of the stories are just plain wrong and the HRA was not the crucial issue which decided a case. According to the UN rapporteur Prof. Philip Alston, visiting the country to look at poverty and human rights issues, tabloid news papers ‘fundamentally distorted and successfully stigmatised’ the act. The general theme is that the legislation allows criminals to go free, prevents foreign criminals from being deported and generally act against the best interests of the population at large. It is to be regretted that when these stories are published, the relevant minister does not point out the facts and correct the wilful errors or plainly tendentious reporting. Worse, some politicians know they can get favourable media coverage by joining in making erroneous or exaggerated claims.

To an extent therefore, the government is hoist by its own petard. There is also the link to Brexit and all things European such as the European Court of Human Rights. Having cast human rights as essentially negative in their impact, that they are contrary to common sense, and that we are subject to legal diktact from Strasbourg, it is only a short step to propose abolition or reform.

In the Spring 2022 addition of the Amnesty magazine (No: 212), the matter is discussed in an article entitled The Great Rights Robbery by Tom Southerden. One of the fundamental points – one which we have made here – is that the act applies to everyone, equally. Of course, the problem with this is that it undermines privilege. Those, through public schooling, inherited privilege, money or other means do not welcome challenges to their status and superiority. There is also the assumption that our rights are ancient and have evolved over centuries since the time of Magna Carta. So we do not need this act they argue. This ignores much of our history: slavery for example which was enthusiastically promoted for nearly two centuries and which we are only now slowly coming to terms with (although the crass royal visits to the Caribbean might argue against that assumption). Students of nineteenth century social history will know of the desperate struggles by workers and citizens to get safe working conditions, sanitation and any kind of justice or fairness.

It appears that the plan is to downgrade the act so that it is no longer more important than any other piece of legislation. The ability to challenge the ‘mighty state machinery’ as Southerden puts it will be weakened.

The last few months have seen the monstrous scandal of the Post Office unfurl. Honest postmasters were variously ruined, shamed or imprisoned not for anything they did but for failings in the IT system. Failings that were known. Some committed suicide. Yet achieving justice has been a very long and desperate struggle. Although the legal battle was won, the money lost has not been recovered. The point is that ordinary people need all the help they can get to stand a chance in fighting overweening state power. The comforting idea that evoking Magna Carta and chuntering on about ‘common sense’ will do the job is pie in the sky.

As we have discussed in an earlier post, the Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, dislikes the act and we have his book discussing at length the reasons why. We must not allow prejudice, fantasy thinking and an aggressive tabloid media promoting misleading stories to reduce our basic rights.

Singapore execution carried out


Singapore executes Nagaenthran Dharmalingam today

Despite international protests, the Singapore government executed by hanging Nagaenthran Dharmalingam – a man with an intellectual disability – today (27 April 2022). He was convicted in 2009 for importing 42.7 g (1.5 oz) of diamorphine (heroin) and sentenced to death under the states draconian anti-drug laws. The decision to execute someone with an intellectual disability is especially abhorrent. This is the second execution in Singapore in a month with a third scheduled for Friday 29th.

Asia-Pacific Amnesty director Erwin van der Borght said:

The execution of Nagaenthran is a disgraceful act by the Singapore government – ruthlessly carried out despite extensive protests in Singapore and Malaysia and an outcry across the world.

Amnesty International, 27 April 2022

The Singapore government justifies the use of the death penalty because of its alleged deterrent effect on drug related problems. Critics point out there is no evidence to support this claim.

Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances. Read our latest death penalty report.

Migrants to be sent to Rwanda under new scheme


Priti Patel launches new scheme to transfer migrants to Rwanda

The government is caught in pincer movement as far as immigration and asylum seekers are concerned. On the one hand are those seeking to cross the Channel in small boats or dinghies, who are to be deterred at all costs, and on the other are those fleeing the war in Ukraine who the public want to be treated sympathetically.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel announced today (14 April 2022) a scheme with an initial cost of £120m to fly immigrants to Rwanda where they will be ‘supported to build a new and prosperous life in one of the fastest growing economies recognised globally for its record on welcoming and integrating migrants’. Home Office press release 14 April 2022.

Perhaps there are two Rwanda’s: one in the imagination of the Home Secretary and the other which exists in the real world. The real world version is a long, long way from the idyllic country Ms Patel and the prime minister seem to imagine. The Amnesty country report in 2021/22 has a long list of human rights abuses which include disappearances and the use of torture. The case of Paul Rusesabingina has attracted some international attention. He was abducted from Dubai, tortured for 4 days, held incommunicado for a further 3 days and denied access to his lawyers for 6 weeks. Confidential documents from his lawyers were illegally confiscated.

The country has failed to ratify the Convention against Enforced Disappearance and there has been a lack of independent investigation into a number of deaths in custody.

There has been extensive use of the Israeli firm’s Pegasus Spyware which has been used against activists, journalists, political opponents, foreign politicians and diplomats.

Human Rights Watch report a lack of credible investigations into enforced disappearances or suspicious deaths in custody. They report the use of arbitrary detention, ill-treatment and torture in official and unofficial detention facilities and fair trial standards are regularly flouted.

The Conservative MP Rory Stewart, interviewed on the BBC’s PM programme, doubts if anyone will be sent to the country. The idea is intended, he believes, to be a stunt to detract attention from the government’s woes at present with both the prime minister and the chancellor having been issued fines by the Metropolitan Police as part of the ‘partygate’ scandal. Let us hope he is right although it is reported Priti Patel flew to Rwanda yesterday (13 April) to seal the deal. The long term costs are not known.

It is not clear who will administer the places where the migrants will be housed: the UK or Rwandan authorities. If it is the latter, then there is a high risk that they will be subject to abuse and mistreatment if their record with their own population is repeated.

The policy is reprehensible on many fronts and panders to popular opinion. The Daily Mail online has a number of below the line comments including ‘I think this is a great policy’ and ‘Great idea, well done government, its (sic) time to do something about it.’ The most popular, attracting 13,362 likes [accessed circa 18:15] from Jaygee in Bucks UK: ‘Let’s put it to a referendum. Probably 75% in favour, snowflakes 25%’. The overwhelming level of comments was favourable for the policy. Several comments refer approvingly of the Danish scheme to send people to Rwanda – which is no doubt where the Home Office got its ideas from – but whether the Danes have actually sent anyone is not at present clear. A similar scheme where Israel sent migrants to Rwanda was abandoned.

The migrant problem is greatly exaggerated. Britain receives many fewer refugees and asylum seekers – around 0.02% of the global total – than other comparable countries. We make it almost impossible to come here legally (hence the fuss over difficulties for Ukrainians) which leads to desperate measures in the Channel. Overall, migrants are a net benefit to the country as a number of Home Office studies have shown. As a wealthy country we have a moral obligation to ‘do our bit’ for the international crisis of people fleeing conflict, war or persecution. The government has allowed itself to be driven by tabloid stories which are often exaggerated and overtly hostile to those seeking to come here.

A shameful policy, of doubtful legality, expensive and very unlikely to work in practice. It is very revealing of a mindset however and is unworthy of a country which aspires to be an influence for good in the world.

CORRECTION: Rory Stewart is no longer an MP.

Sources: BBC; Amnesty International; HRW; Home Office; Daily Mail

Death Penalty report: March – April


We are pleased to attach our monthly death penalty report for March – April 2022 thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it. Singapore features quite strongly this month. Note that Chiana, which is believed to execute more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined, does not feature as details are a state secret.

Market stall


We held our market stall in Salisbury market yesterday after an absence of three years. We had plenty of stuff to sell but overall, the results were down on previous years. Time was when we got to the stall at 7:30 there was already a crowd of a dozen or so and it activity was pretty hectic for the first hour. Those days seem to be gone and the first hour was very quiet. Activity began to pick up towards midday and we may think of extending the timing by an hour next year.

The City Council has also changed the location and instead of being adjacent to the main market, we were placed well off to the east of the market place. Also there are two stalls placed cheek by jowl with another charity which also did not help. Times are hard of course and this month (April) was when all the cuts and energy bills came into effect. So all in all …

We had an enjoyable day and many thanks to group member Ria who took the unsold items away for another go at a car boot sale. Other items, including a quantity of hardback Booker shortlist novels, went to Oxfam who were delighted apparently. Thanks also to all group members who came and manned the stall through the day.

Photo: Salisbury Amnesty

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