To keep your human rights, act.
Public consultation on a UK Bill of Rights closes this weekend. Stephen Bowen, Director, British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) looks at the background to the consultation, and why you've got to speak out to keep your rights.
Let’s start with a question…what is happening this weekend that could lead to drastic changes in the way our human rights are protected in the UK? Answer…This Sunday sees the close of the public consultation by the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights. I suspect that many people are simply not aware there is a major review of UK human rights law taking place, one which may recommend scrapping our Human Rights Act and replacing it with a new Bill of Rights. Act now to keep your human rights
On the face of it a Bill of Rights sounds like a great idea, and of course it would be, if our starting point was one in which human rights laws were treated with respect. Sadly the reality is quite different. The Commission was created to bridge the divide within Government – with the Conservatives promising to scrap the Human Rights Act and the Lib Dems pledging to keep it. And who can forget our Prime Minister’s vivid comments about human rights judgements making him “physically sick”, that the Government will only do the “minimum necessary” to comply with the rule of law, or the Conservative politician widely quoted this summer as saying the Commission “is supposed to be looking at how to scale back the rights”.
This all makes for a pretty worrying background to a consultation on a future Bill of Rights. If better protection of our rights is what the Government has in mind then there really is no need to scrap the Human Rights Act. Any future law could sit side by side with our current Human Rights Act, as happens in other countries across the world. Scrapping the Human Rights Act would be a very bad day for human rights in the UK, one which risks taking our current protections backwards and setting a worrying global precedent.
The Human Rights Act isn’t perfect – no law ever is – but I believe it matters for two very important reasons. Unfortunately human rights abuses do occur here at home, the recent reminders of the cruelty at Winterbourne View are a stark example. At some point any of us may need protection and the Human Rights Act is a safety net for us all, whether we need it right now or not. Just as important, this debate is also about who we are. The Human Rights Act bashing we are witnessing is not simply attacking the law, it is an assault on our country's traditional belief in basic human dignity. A belief in fairness and the importance of us all regardless of our status, our background, our wealth, our age or health.
That is why BIHR is calling on individuals and groups up and down the country to raise our voices together and tell the Commission why we want to keep the Human Rights Act. Time is running out with the consultation closing on 30 September. You can join us by taking two minutes to sign up to the #Act campaign postcard.
I fear that the Human Rights Act is a bit like our health, we won't fully appreciate it until it’s gone. So let's not wait until it’s too late, let’s speak up now, together.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.