For those of us who understand the Human Rights Act and why it is so desperately needed, it is worrying times indeed when at least one of the main political parties is openly threatening to scrap this legislation.
It therefore couldn’t be more important for us to speak out now in order to continue championing the difference the Act makes in ensuring a fairer society and protecting our most vulnerable citizens.
The Labour Party have also been continuing their campaign in celebrating the Human Rights Act this week by publishing real life examples of cases where the legislation has proven to be the last line of defence for vulnerable women in our society.
The Our Human Rights campaign issued a press release highlighting some of the situations where the Human Rights Act has been a safety net for women who would otherwise be afforded no protection or recourse to justice under other UK laws.
One of the arguments levied against the Act is that it is somehow unnecessary in protecting the most vital rights. Those who propose scrapping the Human Rights Act sometimes aver that there are plenty of other laws which adequately cater for those rights. You only need to look at some of the examples of the people it has helped in the last 15 years to know that this cannot be correct. Since its enactment in 2000, the Human Rights Act 1998 has given countless opportunities to afford protection to vulnerable members of society who had no other recourse to justice.
No lawmakers can legislate for every eventuality, and inevitably in every legal system there will be gaps through which people fall because there was no specific law to protect them. What the Human Rights Act does, is to ensure that people never fall through those gaps when it concerns their most fundamental rights. We’re talking about things most of us take for granted as being enshrined somewhere: the right to life, the right not to be subjected to degrading treatment, the right to respect for family life, and so on. The Human Rights Act is a safety-net to ensure that we don’t let members of our society have those rights taken away by State organisations and bodies.
The Labour campaign has highlighted important instances of women protected by the Human Rights Act in recent times.
One example was a woman who, at eight months pregnant, was fleeing serious domestic violence. The local council refused her a homelessness application because she had moved around so much trying to escape her partner. The local authority’s decision left her homeless and her children had to be placed into foster care. She received legal advice which helped her to challenge and overturn this decision by harnessing the Human Rights Act. They successfully argued that social services were not properly considering the rights of the woman and her children to ‘respect for family life’ which is protected by Article 8 of the Act. As a result, the family were able to remain together and the social services department provided the deposit to secure privately rented accommodation.
Society changes at a pace which far outstrips the speed with which legislation can be enacted. It is naïve to assume that we already have laws in place to deal with the new threats and challenges to the safety of women and girls in our country. Technological developments mean we’re now concerned with the threats of Revenge Porn and threats of sexual violence directed at women on social media such as Twitter. With the ever changing make up of our society, we now have an estimated 66,000 women and girls in the UK who have experienced Female Genital Mutilation.
We also need to consider the rights of the women trafficked into this country for forced marriages and forced prostitution. No legislation can cater for every new situation, but with the Human Rights Act in place, we can rest assured that the most fundamental rights will not be ignored, that we will not allow people to slip through the gaps where old laws have failed to cater for them and we can proudly say that our society has mechanisms in place to allow access to justice for vulnerable women.
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