Further threats to our human rights proposed


Suella Braverman, the attorney general, proposes further action to counter the influence of the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR

The onslaught on the UK’s human rights continues apace. In a recent speech to the Policy Exchange thinktank, Ms Braverman argues for radical action to counter the influence of ECHR rules on UK legal affairs. This latest attack is almost certainly triggered by the decision of the European Court to prevent the deportation to Rwanda of a number of immigrants. This occurred almost minutes before the plane was due to take off from Boscombe Down airfield, a mile or two from where this is being written.

The government is evidently determined to reduce several key rights enjoyed by British people sometimes for centuries. A new act will make it harder to protest and gives the police and ministers greater powers to carry curtail them. The ability to seek judicial review is also to be curtailed. The ability to strike is to be subject to yet further restrictions. The Human Rights Act itself is to be abolished and replaced with a Bill of Rights which will be weaker. The weight of legislation, current or proposed, will together amount to a significant reduction in the ability of ordinary people to hold the government to account. We must also add sustained attacks on the BBC, its journalists and its funding, and the intention to sell off Channel 4 which are both seen as irritants.

We discussed in an earlier post, Ms Braverman’s dubious and we argued – quite inappropriate – attitude towards torture, echoing the arguments of Prof Posner of Chicago. We referenced an article in the Observer which showed that several of her claims about her career were of doubtful veracity: no record could be found for example of a supposed contribution to a legal text book. Her claims about the chambers she worked in were also questioned. She was one of the candidates to become Britain’s new prime minister.

In a review of her speech in the Guardian, she is quoted as saying:

[…] a culture where fringe campaign groups, purporting to champion rights, have claimed a moral high ground and have adopted an attitude of intolerance. Often with vastly inflated salaries and armed with a Newspeak dictionary, they have created mighty citadels of grievance across the public sector and made huge inroads into the private sector

Guardian, 11 August 20122, p5

She further claims that the UK now has a ‘rights culture’. One of the problems in discussing her comments and speeches is that few examples are given to illustrate the points she is making. She attacks the judiciary, the human rights community and is vociferous about ‘woke’ matters. She continues in office largely because of her loyalty to the outgoing prime minister, Boris Johnson. As Attorney General, she has to pursue a difficult balancing act. She is both law officer to the government and a member of the government, one of those peculiarly British positions which is fundamentally absurd but previous post holders have acquitted well. Ms Braverman has not, perhaps because of her loyalty to a prime minister who was forced to resign because of one scandal too many.

The concern is that the rhetoric and legislation which comes from it are becoming a danger. Human rights are seen as a threat. Quite how this ‘rights culture’ has damaged the interest of British citizens is never explained. She shares with Dominic Raab a dislike of protest, the judiciary and the European Court and they seek to weaken all of them, eagerly supported by the right wing press. Our system of government, imperfect as it is, is built on the notion of checks and balances. They seek to garner more power to themselves and, by more and more legislation, reduce the opportunity for challenge by protest or via the judiciary.

This post was written without using a Newspeak dictionary.

Bill of Rights consultation


Government invites consultation on its Bill of Rights – but are they listening?

Dubbed by some as the ‘Rights Removal Bill’ the Bill of Rights is currently before Parliament and the government is inviting comments which can be accessed via the EachOther site. The bill has attracted considerable criticism and overall is likely to reduce the rights that people currently enjoy. A number of Conservative politicians have been unhappy with the Human Rights Act which they wish to see replaced with this Bill of Rights. Successive party manifestos have promised its abolition.

In a previous post we drew attention to a book published by the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab which goes someway to explaining the thinking and beliefs which led to this bill. We looked at some of the arguments in the book, Assault on Liberty (Harper Collins, 2009), which have led to the current bill. It claims that there is now an ‘arsenal of rights’ and this is reflected in the introductory remarks which refer to ‘mission creep’. We said that the history was of doubtful merit: the argument being that the country achieved greatness because of its freedoms and liberties and by inference, its decline came about because we have become rule bound of which the HRA is but one culprit. It is part of the small government and limited regulation which some conservative MPs desire. Significantly, the book is peppered with quotes from the Daily Mail which has carried a large number of stories critical of the act. The paper has also directly criticised judges on its front page, calling them ‘enemies of the people’ yet Liz Truss, when she was Justice Secretary, failed to support them until shamed into doing so.

Print media influence

The paper, along with others newspapers from time to time, have produced a series of stories critical of the act. Some are pure inventions and some claim the act is responsible when in fact it has been other legislation which has stoked their ire. Where positive stories appear, for example Hillsborough, the role of the act in achieving justice is downplayed or not mentioned. Readers of the Daily Mail where not told when it itself used the act to protect journalistic sources. The role of the media is important because over the years they have encouraged a negative view of the act to take hold claiming it aids criminals and help all sorts of undesirable people to escape justice by using, in a spurious way, some clause or other thus alleging justice cannot be served because it is their ‘human right’. It has enabled politicians to bring forward this bill safe in the knowledge that sections of the public have been primed over a period of decades to view the act as a thoroughly bad lot and the sooner it is done away with the better. Throw in Europe and the European Court overruling parliament and the scene is set.

If we look at the range of bills and acts, we see a pattern of thinking where laws are introduced to limit protest, restricting access to judicial review, proposals to limit the right to strike still further, and increased police powers amounting collectively to a real step backwards for the liberties of the individual. Taken with the Bill of Rights if it becomes law in its current form, the trend is worrying.

The Bill

The bill has a number of aims. It seeks to dilute ‘positive obligations‘ on public authorities. In view of the current state of the police – one such authority – where a number of forces have been hit by scandal after scandal and several are in special measures, this seems to be particularly inappropriate. It is claimed that the bill will further hurt women’s rights. The already abysmally low level of prosecutions for rape with an even lower level of convictions, will not be helped if the requirement for positive obligations is diluted.

It introduces a permissive stage, a kind of trial before a trial. Since the justice system is already in a state of crisis with extensive delays before a case can come to court, this will have the effect of delaying matters still further. It will also add to costs.

European Court judgements will no longer be part of domestic law. The Supreme Court will also have superiority over the Strasbourg court which is where we came in really. The problem was always that people failed to get justice in the UK courts and had to go to Strasbourg to get it. In a significant number of cases, Strasbourg overruled the UK courts and this became more and more embarrassing. Hence the introduction of the HRA. The Assault on Liberty referred to above is notable for its romantic view of the past and our justice system. The desire to remove Strasbourg from the scene relies on the fantasy of the British justice system being somehow superior. Yet many of our judges, being a product of a very narrow education and from a small part of society, have often shown themselves to be reactionary and out of touch. There was no glorious past which the Justice Secretary seems to think has been taken away. This is discussed in more detail in Conor Gearty’s book, On Fantasy Island (OUP, 2016).

Finally, the desire for rights and responsibilities to be introduced. This is connected in some way to the idea that rights are conditional on good behaviour and that irresponsible behaviour – however that is defined – makes someone less deserving.

The Chair of Joint Committee on Human Rights JCHR, Joanna Cherry QC MP has said that the bill is an ‘unfortunate regression in rights protection’ and has written to the Justice Secretary in those terms.

The local Amnesty group is opposed to the bill. The local Salisbury MP, Mr John Glen has stated he wishes to see the HRA abolished and will be supporting the new bill.

We urge people to submit their views to government while there is still time. As we write (2 August), Liz Truss, seems favourite to become the new prime minister in which case it is certain to become law.

The Bill of Rights


Conservatives seek to abolish the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights

Human rights are about power, who has it, who wields it and the effects on those without it. These rights have been struggled over for centuries. Once it was kings (and the occasional queen) who wielded absolute power. Gradually, it was wrested from them and parliament achieved supremacy after 1688 and the Glorious Revolution. It was a rather more bloody affair a century later in France.

The all party Human Rights Act in 1998 – a fact rather overlooked by some ministers who characterise it as ‘Labour’s’ act – incorporated the European Convention into British law and marked a sea change in the relationship between the people and the government and agents of government. It set out a series of rights which enabled the ordinary subject to challenge government decisions, negligence or criminal acts. Notable successes include the Hillsborough disaster where the police attempted to shift blame onto the supporters but after years of campaigning – using the HRA as a key lever – the surviving families were able to achieve measure of justice and highlight police failings as a key factor in the tragedy. Other scandals have involved hospitals and other police miscarriages where victims have been able to bring to light serious failings in these institutions.

Despite being such a step forward, many in the Conservative party and a major parts of the press, have waged a remorseless campaign against the act. The Conservatives have pledged to reform or abolish it in all their recent manifestos. The press have published story after story along the lines that the act prevents criminals getting their just deserts, it helps terrorists escape justice and most recently, preventing asylum seekers from being exported to Rwanda. Many of the stories are exaggerated or have nothing to do with the HRA. For readers of this material, the decision by Dominic Raab to publish the Bill of Rights this week (June 2022) cannot come too soon and will enable they believe, proper justice to return to the UK. ‘Lefty lawyers’ will be put in their place and before long, plane loads of asylum seekers will be jetted off to Africa. The power of the judiciary to intervene will be reduced.

To understand these actions, as we said above, you have to start with power. If power is exercised fairly, with the rewards of society evenly disbursed, then the holders of power have little to fear. If the leaders have the trust of the people, they are unlikely to feel threatened. But when the divide in the nation between the haves and the have-nots gets wider and wider, when the poor get ever poorer and the nation’s leaders lose the trust of the led, then they will feel threatened. The life of easy privilege will be under threat. It is tempting in these circumstances to clamp down on the means of protest, to close off avenues of redress and to curb the means by which the ordinary person can assert their rights. Hence the spate of bills and the desire to end the HRA, the very means by which the ordinary person can assert their rights against the power of the state.

In addition to the power question, we have to look at some of the other doubtful reasoning behind this bill. In an earlier post we discussed the book written by Dominic Raab and two of his cabinet colleagues arguing for the end of the act. One element was the notion of liberty and it was this which enabled Britain to become a wealthy nation they argue. Laws and regulations have hampered this liberty and thus removed our ability to be properly wealthy. Get rid of these restrictions and we will regain our prosperity.

The argument overlooked slavery which provided the money for investment, imperial preference which stifled competition, and the terrible state that ordinary people lived in, the squalor, the slums, disease and malnutrition. Indeed, they, like many other people, have forgotten the ‘recruits crisis’ where losses in the Boor war at the end of the nineteenth century were hard to replace because the physical, malnourished and unhealthy state of volunteers was so poor.

The Bill of Rights, should it become law – together with the other legislation to limit protest, enhance the powers of the police and to limit judicial oversight – will be a backward step in the development of our society. It will shift yet more power to the government and its ministers. It will drastically reduce the power of the citizen to right wrongs. It is a retrograde step.

We and others will be working to oppose its passing.


For American readers, the Hillsborough disaster was a fatal crush of people during an FA Cup football (soccer) match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, on 15 April 1989. With 96 fatalities and 766 injuries, it remains the worst disaster in British sporting history. Initially, the supporters were blamed but after decades of campaigning, using the HRA as we’ve said, police failings were eventually recognised.

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