Posts Tagged ‘European Convention on Human Rights’


rightsinfo-logoRights 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.

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Great was the joy among those who want to see an end to the ‘hated’ Human Rights Act when it was announced that Michael Gove is the new Justice Secretary and Theresa May – no longer hampered by Lib Dems – will be able to introduce a new Communication Bill commonly called the ‘snoopers’ charter’.

Details will be in the Queen’s Speech at the end of the month and the act might be gone by Christmas.  We look forward to seeing the British Bill of Rights when it is finally published and there is press comment that it has gone through eight drafts in an attempt to sort out the complexities.

There will be many who will be delighted by these moves such has been the press campaign waged against it.  We have noted in a previous blog that a web site called Rights Info has been launched to try and counter the avalanche of negative reporting.  As the debate goes by it would be worthwhile catching up with this site which seeks to set out the true story in each case.  Few will read it unfortunately.  The case of Abu Qatada has become to epitomise the (alleged) failings of the act and the fact that Jordan used torture was conveniently overlooked.

In common with almost any act of parliament you care to mention, the Human Rights Act is capable of improvement or reform and few would argue with that.  For years the problem was individuals who had a problem had to make their way to Strasbourg to seek justice.  The HRA was passed with a lot of cross party support to enable these sorts of cases to be heard in the UK.  Such has been the hysteria and miss-reporting that a calm look at the act does not seem to be possible and in any event the die has now been cast.  The benefits that many ordinary people derive from the act rarely get a mention.

We shall follow events with interest.

UPDATE: 16 May Message from Kate Allen

Over the last few months we have been calling on all our political leaders to keep the Human Rights Act. Tens of thousands of you have taken action, held hustings, and discussed human right issues directly with your prospective parliamentary candidates. 
With the election results now in it is likely that the Human Rights Act is will be under threat like never before.

Over the next few days and weeks we will be carefully analysing the results and planning our next steps. Together we face a huge challenge and you have a vital role to play in the next phase of our campaign if we are to be successful. We will be in touch with more information about the campaign and how you can get involved soon.

Thank you,

Kate Allen
Director, Amnesty International UK 


Around 160 people attended the Cathedral this evening to hear Dominic Grieve QC MP give a brilliantly lucid lecture in support of the Human Rights Act.  He traced some of the key clauses of the Magna Carta and showed how they had continuing relevance today.  We hope to include a transcript of his lecture soon.  His lecture followed the annual Amnesty evensong which also was very well attended with around 120 people.


In his speech to the Tory party conference today, the prime minister David Cameron pledged to get rid of the Human Rights Act #HRA and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.  Problem?  Where is it?  A bit like Lewis Carroll’s snark, it is often spoken of but never actually seen.  It has been talked about off and on for around 7 years now but it still hasn’t seen the light of day.

David Cameron Photo, BBC

David Cameron
Photo, BBC

Second problem: how will it be any different to the HRA it will replace?  It will presumably contain many of the clauses about fair trials, no torture, knowing what one is accused of, no slavery, arbitrary arrest etc. etc. that are contained in the HRA.

It is likely that the ire is directed at some individual cases which get the tabloid press in a stew such as Abu Qatada.  The issue here of course was that he could not be deported because it was likely that either, he would be tortured or, evidence gained by torture would be used against him.

The problem is the same as it always has been with the act.  It is European and in the fevered atmosphere of anti-Europeanism stoked up by Ukip, anything from Europe is a bad thing.  The second problem is the media – or sections of it – who dislike the act and print all manner of misinformation and disinformation about its rulings.  They don’t like it because the question of privacy has a higher standing under the act than they would like.  As we have seen with News International – and are beginning to see with the Mirror Group newspapers – newspapers are sold by penetrating the private lives of the famous by a variety of dubious and illegal means.

The benefits of the act, such as that reported today of people in Essex who were able to use it to take action against the police, are seldom reported.

Unless we pull out of the Council of Europe, we will still be subject to the rulings of the European Court.  It is strange to report that with all the venom and anger directed against Strasbourg nearly 99% of cases applications against the UK are struck out.  That is because we have good legal systems here.  The HRA was brought in to stop the trail of people having to go to Europe to get justice.


Dominic Grieve was sacked by David Cameron in the last reshuffle and it was widely interpreted as a clearing of the decks by the prime minister of supporters of the Human Rights Act #HRA.  Grieve has now spoken on the issue and below is a link to the interview in the Guardian newspaper.

In an earlier piece, Dominic Grieve expressed his dismay that David Cameron had narrowed the range of views held by his senior team. The attorney general sacked by David Cameron over his dogged support for the European convention on human rights (#ECHR) says he fears the prime minister will use this week’s party conference to dilute the UK’s commitment to the international treaty.

The Conservatives have misgivings about the act partly because of their distaste for things European.  There has been a concerted tabloid campaign against the act and the ECHR because allegedly it gives rights to criminals and terrorists.  The benefits of the act to ordinary people is rarely given a mention however. They also publish a great deal of misinformation which is seldom corrected.

Readers may like to look at an earlier post following a meeting the group had with the Salisbury MP, John Glen.  He has said he wants to see the HRA abolished but after some of the benefits of the act for ordinary people – including some of his constituents – were explained, he did agree to be more balanced in future.

Guardian article

 


The Salisbury group invited John Glen MP to speak to the group following his comments in the Salisbury Journal that – in common with other MPs, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary Teresa May – he would like to scrap the Human Rights Act [HRA] #HRA.  The Conservatives in their election manifesto had said they wanted to enact a Bill of Rights [BoR] and appointed a Commission to review the matter.  It failed to reach an agreement and there the matter has rested with no current work being done to draft a BoR.  Nevertheless, there is still political agitation to abolish the #HRA.  A key theme of the evening was trying to determine what would the difference be between a new Bill of Rights and the existing HRA.  In other words what would be included and what left out.

Andrew – chair of the local group – welcomed Mr Glen who began by saying he was a keen supporter of human rights.  He was a member of The Westminster Foundation for Democracy and had recently visited Iran, Egypt and the Maldives.  In the first two countries he discussed the plight of Christians with the authorities.  He had recently asked a question* in the House of Commons concerning the Israel/Palestine conflict.

As far as the HRA was concerned the main issue was the question of the interaction with the European Court: Strasbourg [rulings] should be taken into account, not be binding.  A proposal for a British BoR will possibly be in the party manifesto.  He was concerned about some of the claims made using the act and he mentioned the issue of equipment in Afghanistan.  Various points were put to Mr Glen by members:

  • The HRA was passed into UK law to enable claims to be made in this country and to reduce the need to go to Strasbourg. JG said this may have been the intention but was not always the case in practice
  • If a Bill of Rights is to be introduced, how would it in fact be different from the HRA as it is?
  • The HRA was of enormous benefit to ordinary people – some of whom are [your] constituents. For example, art. 8 protects the elderly and vulnerable. The problem is made worse for many by the reductions in legal aid.  JG said he saw people every day with these problems and he was not happy with the Justice reforms.  But he was concerned at perverse outcomes and it needs the will of Parliament.  It was pointed out that the HRA was by will of Parliament.
  • He was asked if the point of a BoR was to fetter the judiciary and again, how will it be different from the HRA?

 

  • It was reported that Strasbourg was concerned at the risk of the UK abandoning the HRA.  As we (the UK with France) were the countries behind the original convention, it would concern them if we turned our back on it. The convention had had enormous beneficial effects in Russia and Belarus who might be less keen to change if we were not there. It was also pointed out that the FCO web site was a keen supporter.  JG said that without knowing what would replace the act this was a hypothetical question.
  • The point was made several times that the positive effects of the act and the cases which fail in the courts, rarely receive publicity. JG agreed with this point. For the most part, there was an anti-attitude fostered by the tabloid press. JG said he was not following a tabloid agenda. He had to read them to know what would be in his post from constituents. He felt had demonstrated his commitment to human rights through his overseas work.
  • Prisoner voting rights were a topic that caused a lot of anxiety. Would it not be appropriate to allow prisoners the vote towards the end of their sentences to help prepare them for re-entry into society?  JG talked about the importance of education in prisons.  He was reminded that funding had been cut for this.

In conclusion, he said he would reflect on the problem of a lack of balance in the public dialogue.  He will also consider how refinements to the HRA might obviate the need for a Bill of Rights.

Group members were no clearer on what would be the difference between a Bill of Rights and the HRA but welcomed Mr Glen’s statement that his comments on the latter would be more balanced in future.

UPDATE

Reported on 17 July that the Conservatives are planning to introduce a British Bill of Rights in their manifesto.

View the South region site of Amnesty International

*John Glen’s question in the House:

Hansard question 1 July

 

 

 

 


Ken Clarke MP resigned as a minister in the Government at his own request yesterday and issued a parting warning to the Conservatives on the European human rights convention #ECHR.

In a strong warning to his party, he said: “I personally think it is unthinkable to leave the European convention on human rights. It was drafted by British lawyers after the second world war to protect the values we fought the war for. Now it is a long way from the war, but members of the European council covered by the convention include Russia and Belarus and so on.  It is the way we uphold the values we strive for which are the rule of law, individual liberty, justice for all, regardless of gender. The convention is the bedrock of that.”

He added: “A slightly absurd debate takes place in this country.  We are occasionally taken to the European court in Strasbourg but we win 98% of the cases because of our human rights record.  We only lose 2% of cases and all these mad mullahs that the press love to vilify and blame for our terrorist problems – which is a somewhat uncomplicated way of analysing the situation – are thought to win in Strasbourg.  Well, we have won all the cases in Strasbourg.

Source: Guardian

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jul/15/ken-clarke-exits-human-rights-warning-tories

View the South region site