It is a very difficult time for human rights in this country. The Human Rights Act is under threat of repeal, despite having done so much to protect people in the UK in the last 15 years.
The time is now to stand up for the Act, to explain what it is and what it is not.
As Human Rights Lawyers, I feel we have a responsibility to defend these fundamental freedoms and be vocal about how important they are. A great deal of this responsibility has to do with busting some myths that are promulgated in sections of the media. Whether it is due to lazy reporting, the pressures of our 24-hour news culture, or even deliberate misreporting for the gains of the powerful, there is no doubt that the Human Rights Act has taken an unnecessary bashing in parts of the press and by some politicians.
Ordinary intelligent people have been left with the most bizarre understanding of what the Act is for and who it protects – not realising that it only protects the most fundamental rights and freedoms and that it is there to protect all of us as individuals from abuses by the state and state bodies. Likewise, there has been a failure to report the positive stories, to promote the good news about the Act and to celebrate the vital changes it has made to the lives of everyday Britons.
The current political situation means the media myths now need to be urgently addressed.
We were complacent before because we presumed that the rights were here to stay, but now we need to counter those myths. A useful starting point is Liberty’s Human Rights Act Mythbuster.
My favourites from the list are that it was wrongly reported that there was a right to porn or a right to fried chicken! I kid you not. Stories like these may seem ridiculous to those in the know, but they are dangerous if they lead to an erosion of real rights: the right to life, the right not to be tortured, and so on.
A useful way to consider whether the Act needs to change, or whether it should remain, is to look at the list of rights protected by the Act and ask yourself, “Which one would I give away? Which one would I not want for myself or a member of my family?”
Sarah Jones is a Clinical Negligence and Human Rights Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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