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A British Bill of Rights Should Not Mean an Erosion of Basic Human Rights

By Principal Lawyer, Abuse and Disease Teams

Human Rights are back in the news again with this week’s celebration of 800 years of the Magna Carta.

This celebration of the ‘birth of individual rights’ as opposed to the absolute supremacy of the King comes at a time when the Conservative government has proposed to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.

In their manifesto, the Conservative party promised that the Bill will “remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights” but also “will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes.”

So, the immediate future of human rights in the UK is not very clear at all.

It’s also a potentially worrying time for the many vulnerable people who are protected by human rights legislation. Those of us who care about human rights must continue to champion the good work that human rights legislation has done and how it has had a positive impact on the lives of ordinary people.

Where Do Our Human Rights Laws Come From?

The history of defending and protecting people’s rights stretches right back to the Magna Carta, created in 1215 to limit the powers of the monarch and was the first step to establishing the right to trial by jury.

Our current Human Rights Act, which came into force in October 2000, enshrined into domestic law the European Convention on Human Rights, formed in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War with the UK, and Sir Winston Churchill in particular, playing a major role in its creation.

The Convention established fundamental human rights such as the right to life, the right not to be tortured and the right to a fair trial.

Why Do We Support Human Rights?

Human rights legislation protects some of the most vulnerable people in society, such as children, the elderly, people with disabilities and victims of sexual abuse.

The Human Rights Act, which the UK Government is proposing to repeal, has done nothing wrong but instead has brought a lot of good to a lot of people, as we have previously commented in an earlier blog: The Value of the Human Rights Act.

The Act incorporated into UK law the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, making it possible for people to seek a remedy directly in UK courts for a human rights breach, without them needing to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

If human rights law in the UK is going to be effectively re-written into a new Bill of Rights, which of these fundamental human rights will be given up exactly?

How have Human Rights Helped People in the UK?

Human rights legislation has made it a crime to beat children or subject them to abuse. It protects people with disabilities from being discriminated against and prevents people with learning difficulties being denied the right to an education.

The Human Rights Act has helped families at inquests get access to important information on how their loved one has died. It has helped elderly people in care homes to be looked after in a way that doesn’t restrict their freedom, helped protect the right to life of people serving in the armed forces even when they are serving abroad, and helped lots of people to challenge unlawful decisions by the state via judicial review.

The excellent Rights Info website gives in-depth information about what human rights do for us, debunks some of the most common myths around human rights law and translates some important human rights cases into easy-to-read short stories.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers have helped many vulnerable people thanks to the protection offered by our current human rights legislation. We see the benefits that human rights law brings to people in our everyday work as Human Rights Lawyers and have discussed some of them in an earlier blog entitled Human Rights – Real People, Real Rights.

If we are going to have a Human Rights re-brand to a British Bill of Rights then it must not dilute any of the current rights contained in the Human Rights Act. That would be a betrayal of this country’s legacy of championing human rights and democracy across the globe. But, if a re-brand allows the British people to feel proud of their Human Rights Act, then that could be a positive thing.

Kim Harrison is the National Practice Development Leader for Human Rights at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.

For a free consultation about a Human Rights issue call Slater and Gordon Lawyers 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to help you.

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