Government’s attitudes to human rights


The new government under Rishi Sunak does not bode well for human rights in the UK

October 2022

Rish Sunak was appointed the new prime minister yesterday (25 October 2022) and it is worth looking at his, and some of his minister’s, approaches to human rights. They are not promising. The key people are, in addition to the prime minister, Suella Braverman (Home Office) and Dominic Rabb (Justice Dept). All three have made a range of statements and speeches which, taken together, set out a decidedly negative attitude to our rights.

Sunak is a keen supporter of the Rwanda policy to deport people to Africa, indeed he wants to double the number sent and one means is to reduce the qualifying gaol term from 12 to 6 months which will apply to immigrants who commit crime. He wants to tighten the definition of who qualifies for asylum in the UK. He wants to increase powers to detain, tag and monitor illegal immigrants.

He is a keen supporter of repealing the Human Rights Act claiming in an interview that ‘human rights law was acting as an obstacle for government’ and ‘making it difficult [for the government] to achieve our objectives’. He also voted against the retaining the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Suella Braverman is back as Home Secretary only just having resigned a matter of days ago for having breached the ministerial code. We have reported before on her highly manicured cv including the claim that she had contributed to the writing of a legal textbook, the actual author of which said that she did help with some photocopying.

She too is keen to end the HRA and extricate the UK from the European Court of Human Rights. She claims there is now a ‘rights culture’ and that this has caused confusion and distress in some areas. She wants to introduce a permission stage to claims to ‘limit trivial human rights cases wasting the courts’ time and public money’.

Dominic Raab is back as the Justice Secretary and in a previous post we reviewed his book Assault on Liberty. He agrees with the above policies. The book is useful because it enables us to examine the thinking and beliefs which many politicians share. They have this profound belief in liberty which they see as threatened by protest and human rights. They think that there has been too much focus on individual rights at the expense of collective responsibilities. Sunak seems to believe that these rights prevent good government in ways that are not exactly clear.

They are supported in their beliefs by much of the press with a steady stream of anti-immigrant stories particularly focused on people crossing the Channel in boats. To what extent this represents the views of the general population is a moot point. Among the population at large, according to YouGov, they are not happy with the government’s approach to the boat people. It is however, a much more salient issue among Conservative supporters where there is pressure to limit the crossings.

With all three top positions occupied by politicians with these beliefs we can look forward to further aggressive moves against immigrants and asylum seekers. It is ironic to note however, that two of them are offspring of people who came here from overseas and made successful lives for themselves. Both had parents who, having settled here, were sufficiently successful to enable both to receive good educations and succeed in the law (Braverman) and the City (Sunak). Sunak went to Winchester one of the elite public* schools in Britain.

Note for US readers: ‘public’ schools are in fact private and Winchester is one of the most expensive in the UK.

Sources: Each Other; Save Our Citizenship; They Work for You; the Guardian; Conservative Home; the Spectator; Daily Mail; Refugee Action; Amnesty International

UPDATE: 28 October. The following is a link to EachOther with a more detailed analysis of the above three plus two other members of the cabinet with similar views. Again, we note that two of them are offspring of immigrants welcomed here.

Bill of Rights consultation


August 2022

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.

Reforming the Human rights Act


Will the proposed ‘reforms’ lessen our rights?

April 2022

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.

Threat to the Human Rights Act


The Justice Secretary announces sweeping changes to the act

It has been a long term ambition of some Conservative politicians to either abolish or seriously curtail the HRA.  In 2006 David Cameron said he wanted to scrap the HRA and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.  The Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, wrote a book The Assault on Liberty: What Went Wrong with Rights which we earlier reviewed, which set out his arguments.  We suggested there that the reasoning was flawed, feeble and far from historically accurate. Along with three other members of the current cabinet, he contributed to Britannia Unchanged with its much quoted derogatory remarks about British workers who were alleged to be the laziest in the world.  There is footage of him saying ‘I don’t support the Human Rights Act and I don’t believe in economic and social rights’. 

The Conservative position has received much support in the right wing and tabloid press.  Articles regularly appear which assert the act is used to give succour to terrorists, foreign criminals and – most famously – reporting Theresa May’s claim that it was a cat which stood in the way of the deportation of a Chilean national.  It wasn’t.  Some of the stories are gross exaggerations.  Raab even quotes the story of a man in a siege demanding a Kentucky fried chicken because it was his ‘human right’ despite admitting it was not the reason: it was just normal police practice to help defuse a tense situation. 

The many benefits the act has brought to the lives of ordinary people are rarely mentioned.  Even when, in cases like the Hillsborough disaster, or the events at Deepcut, the act was central to securing justice for the families of those who died, that role is omitted from the coverage.  The act has been used in countless cases to secure rights for individuals in their relations with government agencies and local authorities.  Its provisions are built into every day provisions in those organisation’s activities.

 Review

In December last year the government established a review of the HRA and this was published on 14 December 2021.  In short, the Review does not call for substantial changes to the act and argues that it is a good piece of legislation.  The ‘vast majority of submissions [were] in support of HRA’ and they argue that ‘more needs to be done to dispose of the negative perceptions of the HRA (paragraph 14).  They go on to argue for a ‘stronger focus on civic, constitutional education on the HRA and rights more generally’ (15). 

They discuss the ‘margin of appreciation’ that is the degree of subsidiarity and the degree of latitude we have to interpret the law and conclude there is no need to change the current arrangements (26).  They were struck by ‘a high level regard in which the UK Courts and Judiciary are held by the ECtHR and the beneficial influence this has, both domestically and for the European Court’ (35). 

It would seem that the decision to make a sweeping overhaul was not informed by the Review but was a decision already decided on

The Justice Minister announced sweeping changes to the HRA in a statement before the Review was published.  The changes will counter ‘wokery and political correctness’ he claimed.  It is difficult to reconcile the results of the Review with the statement by Mr Raab of the need for radical reform.  It would seem that the decision to make a sweeping overhaul was not informed by the Review but was a decision already decided on.  

If we take into account the other bills before parliament: the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill and the Judicial Review and Courts bill, they represent, together, a serious attack on our liberties.  The ability of ordinary people to assert their rights, to protest or to correct injustice done to them will be seriously curtailed.  There is also a proposal to introduce a ‘permissions stage’ before someone can argue their case in court.  The right to a family life (art 8) may be removed altogether.  As the chief executive of Amnesty International has argued ‘if ministers move ahead with plans to water down the HRA and override judgements with which they disagree they risk aligning themselves with authoritarian regimes around the world’.  

In the last few months, we have seen serious failings by those who are meant to look after us. Serious police shortcomings and allegations of institutional racism have been made. The abysmally low level of rape cases which result in successful prosecutions. Serious failings in childcare with the tragic deaths of some small children. There have been failings within government too numerous to itemise. Far from a reduction in the means of redress, we need an increase. Yet the government seems determined to curtail our rights based on false assumptions and a desire for populist support.

It is likely the Salisbury group will be focusing on these assaults in its future campaigning.

Review of the Human Rights Act


At last we are to see what is proposed in a review of the HRA which several in the Conservative Party wish to see changed. The group is likely to campaign against the changes if, as seems likely, they weaken protections that the act presently provides. Taken with other bills currently going through parliament, they represent a serious attack on our liberties and echo actions by authoritarian regimes around the world.

For now, it might be worth highlighting our post on Dominic Raab MP, the Justice Secretary who is one of the proponents of the changes.

Dominic Raab MP


Dominic Raab appointed Justice Secretary last month: should we be worried?

It is not often that we can read the thinking of a cabinet minister and rarer still for an MP to write about a topic which becomes central to his ministerial appointment. Dominic Raab, the new Justice Secretary after the recent reshuffle, has written about human rights in a book The Assault on Liberty: What Went Wrong with Rights, (Harper Collins, 2009) and was co-author with Kwasi Kwateng, Priti Patel, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss of Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

The latter book became famous (infamous?) for the much quoted passage accusing British workers for ‘being among the worst idlers in the world’ and for Britain being what they termed a ‘bloated state with high taxes and excessive regulation’. The book was criticised for its slipshod research. Four of the authors have achieved senior positions in the Johnson cabinet.

Raab’s book is devoted to a demolition of human rights as expressed in the Human Rights Act. There are several key themes in the book the main one being that it is an attack on British Liberties. The act he claims has led to a proliferation of rights beyond the original intention caused by the court in Strasbourg widening the net with each new case.

This has led to confusion by those dealing with the law, police and local authorities he claims. Teachers can no longer keep control in class because of the act. Professionals have ‘their judgement trumped by being fettered by the diverse and onerous burdens dictated by human rights’.

Claims by individuals can now ‘select from an arsenal of new rights’ by which the individual can ‘force the state to prioritise the interest of the individual claimant over the claims of other individuals and the rest of society’.

There are interesting passages on torture. He says ‘[A] whole range of comparatively minor mistreatment is now covered by the wide ban on torture and inhuman treatment, well beyond the original intention of the convention’. No evidence is given to support this.

Significantly, a number of references are quotes from the Daily Mail which has maintained a steady stream of stories critical of the act and of human rights generally. Curiously, Raab quotes one concerning a man under siege who demanded Kentucky fried chicken as it was his ‘human right’. This made headlines in the tabloids but it turned out not to be true. Police routinely accede to reasonable requests in these circumstances in an effort to diffuse the situation and has nothing to do with human rights. Raab acknowledges this but explains that ‘if officials got it wrong it only serves to demonstrate the pervasive confusion’.

His history is not on sure ground either. He claims that the huge rise in prosperity between 1800 and 2000 was due to liberty. The argument seems to be that liberty is under threat from human rights and hence it will harm our prosperity. He rather ignores the influence of slavery and the slave trade which provide enormous wealth enabling the financing of the industrial revolution: hardly an example of liberty at work.

The entire book is a kind of peon of times past. We lived in a country which enjoyed liberty, trial by jury and a parliamentary system which is now threatened by a proliferation of rights ‘conjured up by human rights lawyers and campaigners’ he states. Conor Gearty refers to the ‘myth of the glorious past’ in his book On Fantasy Island (Oxford University Press, 2016). There was no glorious past. Women for example, then as now, could not look to the law for much in the way of protection. Ferocious laws were enforced against ordinary people to protect the interests of the wealthy and the landowners. Working conditions were atrocious for millions who died early deaths from industrial accidents or from the conditions they worked under. People were deported for the merest offence. It took decades of struggle to achieve basic sanitation and clean water in our towns and cities. And let us not forget that the judiciary are drawn from an extremely narrow section of society with 70% of them educated in just a handful of public* schools.

Raab’s book is thus based on the dubious proposition that we all enjoyed halcyon days of liberty and then along came the Human Rights Act which is slowly and surely destroying it. We can ask ‘liberty for whom?’ The wealthy, the elite, the well connected and the products of elite schools did enjoy the fruits of liberty. But the vast majority of citizens (actually subjects, we are not citizens) had little recourse to the law even if they could afford it. They were unlikely to get a fair hearing even if they did.

Perhaps one of the facts about the Human Rights Act is that it gives every person a list of basic rights. Everyone can in principle at least, use these rights to achieve justice, something they could not do before.

Dominic Raab’s book is worrying since it reveals reasoning which is feeble, flawed and far from historically accurate. Together with his contribution to Britannia Unchained it also reveals someone who seems to have both a low opinion of his fellow citizens and a somewhat disdainful attitude to their rights.

He is now our Justice Secretary.


American readers. Since we have many USA readers we should explain that ‘public’ schools are not public at all. They are extremely expensive private schools.

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