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The Value of the Human Rights Act

Five years ago I was privileged to be in the room when the late Lord Bingham, after listing the human rights conferred by the European Convention of Human Rights, asked “Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard? Are any of them trivial, superfluous, unnecessary?”

Then he asked the crucial question, “Are any of them un-British?”

Five years later, and with less than a year until the General Election, the Human Rights Act 1998 is under threat. This is not to make a party political point; far from it. All three main political parties deserve some obloquy for their record on human rights. However, it does appear the Conservative Party are flirting with leaving the European Convention on Human Rights.

The latest plot development was the apparent dismissal of the Attorney-General, Dominic Grieve QC, who had recently warned his Conservative colleagues that the plan to leave the European Convention on Human Rights was a plan for "a legal car crash with a built-in time delay", and further that it was "incoherent" to attempt to remain a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights without recognising the rulings of the Court set up to enforce it.

Fuel has now been added to the fire by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who stated that “the headbangers have now won”, and that the Conservative plans would see the Prime Minister “line up with Vladimir Putin and other tyrants”. Whilst one can appreciate Mr Clegg was merely politicking with strongly worded comments, they miss the point made above by Lord Bingham; if you want to get rid of the Human Rights Act, which rights would you discard?

Judgments going against the UK Government including those on prisoners’ voting and the removal of Abu Qatada have left a sour taste for many who wish to assert the sovereignty of Parliament. As one Conservative MP put it "We have a Supreme Court now, let it be supreme and let Parliament be the final arbiter and take full control over these matters." This is in fact a separate debate and again fails to address the need for the Human Rights Act to be replaced by a British Bill of Rights.

It's now time to champion the Human Rights Act, not simply defend it. It has done nothing wrong, but has brought a lot of good. The Human Rights Act does not discriminate; it is there for everyone who needs legal protection against the State.

Here are just a few of the fundamental rights that we all take for granted:

  • The right to life.
  • The right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • The right not to be enslaved.
  • The right to liberty and security of the person.
  • The right to a fair trial.
  • The right not to be retrospectively penalised.
  • The right to respect for private and family life.
  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  • Freedom of expression.

I ask, as Lord Bingham did, which of these rights would we wish to discard?

Slater and Gordon Lawyers represent many people in human rights cases, and stand in support of the Human Rights Act 1998 and European Convention on Human Rights. We do this not to make a political point, or to stand against the “headbangers”. We do this to stand up for our clients and the fundamental rights we all deserve.

Zak Golombeck is a Medical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.