A most serious threat to our human rights

So we’re really here. After years of misrepresentation, demonisation and untruths, has the Human Rights Act had its day? Will the government turn its back on the sense of fairness we’ve aspired to since Magna Carta to say that some rights aren’t actually for all of us?

I hope not. But the risk of that happening is now very real.

‘Most serious’ limitations to our rights

Our new Justice Secretary has made it clear he intends to press ahead in replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights (note the missing word ‘human’). We don’t yet know what exactly that could mean, but we got some worrying insights last October.

Take this line, for example: “limit the use of human rights laws to the most serious cases”.

That sentence could effectively gut almost everyone’s ability to challenge decisions or laws that affect their basic rights. Would Jan Sutton’s claims for better social care have been heard under this narrower definition of universal rights? Would Jenny and Tim’s claims about their council’s illegal surveillance have been heard?

We don’t know yet. But one thing seems clear – the proposals we’ve seen are not about widening our protection under human rights. They’re about restricting our protections, wrapped up as a gift of freeing the system from the ‘trivial’.     

Will the UK throw away its leading role in human rights?

Another very worrying path that this leads us down is the possibility that government takes us out of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The UK was one of the first signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950 – long before the EU was in the picture, and with the spectre of World War II still looming large. The Convention is one of Churchill’s legacies – a clear, pan-continental commitment to basic rights for every person from Land’s End to Siberia. The Convention and that commitment from 47 countries should be one of our greatest sources of pride.

Instead we could go from leading the way on universal rights for all – for the best and worst of us – to providing dictators and despots a playbook in how to undermine the rights of ordinary people. Only one country in Europe hasn’t signed the ECHR: Belarus, Europe’s last dictator. Is this the company we want to keep? And what will the UK’s influence around the world look like if we take that step?

We’re really here. We know the risks to our rights are real. We don’t yet know what the alternative will be in detail, but we know some of the broad brush strokes, and it’s not pretty.

So we really need your voice and your passion. Join the campaign to protect our rights. Join Amnesty and stand up for human rights. Tell everyone you know how the Human Rights Act has made us all better off, not poorer.

The fight starts now.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
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.
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7 comments

I was hoping there'd be some hard facts in this analysis - maybe none are available until Michael Gove tells us (he's not going to be swayed or listen to non-Conservative voices) what he's putting in a replacement Rights Act.

guy 3 years ago

Hi Guy, you're right that until the Justice Minister publishes his plans we can't give a full analysis. But the draft proposals issued in October give glimpses of the future - and we're very concerned at the direction of travel.
Language like limiting the use of human rights law to 'the most serious cases' undermine the core purpose of our human rights: that they're universal, for all of us to call on. The independent website <a href="http://www.rightsinfo.org">rightsinfo.org</a> has a wide range of examples of the potential 'trivial' uses of the Human Rights Act that have improved countless lives. It's worth having a look round.

EmersonStaff 3 years ago

As an Amnesty supporter I am not happy to see the organization get dragged away from its core mission to get involved in party politics in this way. Merely tagging a cause - however worthy or popular - with the label "human rights" does not imply that Amnesty should support it. I am sure there are many ways that the Human Rights Act has improved lives. Like any piece of legislation, it is a trade-off and has both bad and good effects - and its net benefit is a matter of opinion and debate, not fact.

Unfortunately the steady expansion of the term "human rights" into wider and wider areas risks diluting it to the point of being a mere slogan. And Amnesty weakens itself by wading into partisan lobbying, when in fact human rights are something that everyone, whatever their place on the political spectrum, can support without reservation.

Edward Avis 3 years ago

To achieve real progress we must recognise the reality.

It seems clear to me that "the system" already picks & chooses by protecting "property" & not guaranteeing our free birthright of access to land on which to live. To get our essential land access we must get money by serving the property system & then paying rent or mortgage.

We are playing around if we don't come to terms with such a fundamental denial as to amount to a denial of a right to life.

landrights4all 3 years ago

UK as a signatory to the European Court should firstly seek amendments to the EU Convention such that perceived excesses by the Court are curtailed. Since membership of the EU demands acceptance of the European HR Court, the UK cannot opt out. Then, if needs must, the "Labour's" (No!) the UK's current Human Rights Act should be revised in accordance with the changes to the European Convention.
Then, and only then, if it can be demonstrated the requirements of human rights and responsibilities cannot be reconciled between the EU HR Court and UK Law, then a proposal could be presented to Parliament for revisions to the UK Human Rights Act. Certainly, there is absolutely no case for eliminating "inconvenient" clauses as viewed by individual members of the UK government of any colour.
Gove, as previously for education, prefers to axe a healthy tree rather than prune and nurture it.
Amnesty should lobby for a constructive approach to the resolution of any conflict of views about the current state of Human Rights in the UK, Europe and the world. There are always improvements that can be made over time and Amnesty must lead the way by constructive proposals and good reasoning.

Seaqal 3 years ago

Lets wait and see what the British Bill of Rights actually says, before petitioning!

chris.connelly 3 years ago

I don't think the organisation should wait to see what is in the Bill of Rights as the mood music from many Tory MP's is that it will strengthen human rights in the UK, but as nothing has generally been released they themselves are already jumping the gun and organisations like Amnesty need to challenge this stance immediately, particularly in relation to transparency.

As for not doing anything on this matter because it is in the political arena is frankly nonsense. Govts across the world are possibly the worse abusers of human rights and if any of them are looking to weaken them then they should be opposed.

Daveyboy 3 years ago