State of the Act

I’ll be honest – I’ve not done much politically since David Cameron realised that he’d lost steam in the debate around the repeal of the Human Rights Act. HeĀ  quickly went from being gung-ho about the repeal, to questioning himself about it. Since the Queen’s speech announced they would merely “bring forward proposals” (rather than do any actual legislative change) very little has been said from the Conservative party.

I’m not surprised to see Mr Cameron less confident in this.

The Conservative party’s majority is only 12 members of Parliament. Three of the biggest opponents to the removal our the Human Rights Act are Conservative: Ken Clarke, Dominic Grieve, and David Davis. There’s at least three members of that “majority” wiped out already. There are even more of them in the party that would stand against the destruction of the safeguards to our liberty. With this weak majority, a vote likely wouldn’t pass.

If it were to pass through Commons, the Lords would be an even bigger fight. They see themselves as the guardians of our constitution – exactly what they were designed to be: protectors against a weak government pushing unfavourable legislative change, against the will of the people. With a majority Labour House, they’ll use the Salisbury convention to deny any further progress for the repeal.

More questions have risen about if it’s even legally possible for us to turn our back on the ECHR in this way. The Scotland Act was drawn up with a specific provision around the Human Rights Act. With the Act gone, a whole new debate would be needed around the powers given to Scotland, due to an amendment needing to be added. This likely isn’t something any English parliament member would look forward to.

If Scotland wasn’t enough of a problem, Northern Ireland can step up to the plate and throw his whole ball game: “direct access” to the ECHR was a part of the Good Friday Agreement, the peace treaty we signed. Removing the HRA would leave millions of people in Britain without any access via their local courts, which would be a violation of international law. The UN would be very much within their rights to apply sanctions against us.

There’s still a debate to be had. The government is still planning on bringing this up again. We mustn’t feel like we’ve already won. A fight is still to be had!


Helping “Real People”

I have a note in my notebook, a quick quote: “talk about real issues, that affect real people.” That’s how you’re supposed to capture the hears of the people you’re trying to persuade. Putting that idea in the scope of the Human Rights Act is tricky for me, because so many of the rulings that have come directly from the European Court of Human Rights don’t affect “real people”, the British-every-man.

Taking a look through RightsInfo’s stories and you’ll read stories about a prisoner who was falsely accused being denied representation, or victims of slavery being forced to manage cannabis crops, or children fighting to live in their home whilst their parents are threatened with deportation. Can you put yourself in any of those shoes? Can you foresee yourself being in one of those situations?

You just can’t. For one thing, many people who are being protected by the ECHR in high profile cases aren’t even British. And these situations must happen so rarely, in such bizarre circumstances. Don’t feel bad about being unable to emphasise with the people in those situations. I can’t either. Most people won’t be able to.

We’re fortunate enough to have the European Convention of Human Rights though. During a time of experience, just after the worst war the world will ever see, where many were in horrible situations, these freedoms were decided. We don’t need to decide those freedoms now, completely out of context of the suffering they’re designed to protect against. We saw the horrors and we vowed never to see them again within our borders. That’s why we have these set in stone ideals, which don’t need to be subject to amendments.

We must protect anyone who falls below this standard of care. Be happy that these cases are rare. They’d be much more common without access to the ECHR through the HRA.

The European Court of Human Rights, miles away, in Strasbourg

Response to the Express & Star article

The news paper from back home has written a balanced piece on the Human Rights Act. Or at least, what they think is balanced.

I feel there’s a heavy bias towards removing the HRA, using phrases like “introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour government”. It may well have been introduced by Blair’s government, but it was still voted for-or-against by everyone in the House of Commons.

It gives examples of its outdated purpose by saying “and came about at a time […] where people could be sent to gulags without trial”. I don’t believe this has been put there for some historical colour. It was put there because the author wanted to contrast lives back then, and our lives today, implying we don’t need to be worried about these issues any longer.

The arguments against the Act are visually more dominant. The cons are far more colourful than the pros; cons: rapists, terrorists, arsonists all set free. pros: woman is allowed to make her child homeless rather than be taken into care.

Pressing for fear goes further with lines like this: “[..] a foreign national who kills someone won’t be able to use their ‘right to a family and private life’ as an excuse to get out of deportation.” Which is just a lie. No one gets to stay in the UK after killing someone because of their right to a family life, regardless of the Human Rights Act.

It very much missed out the good points having of our Human Rights protection so close to home has. Police need a very good reason to stop and search you, they can’t break up peaceful protests, and they can’t stop you trying to defend yourself when someone accuses you of a crime. It means that your grandparents are required to be put in the same care home as each other, and mentally ill patients are not allowed to be locked in solitary “for their own safety”. These things, and many more, were left unchecked without the Human Rights Act.

Maybe the journalist was honestly trying to give a balanced piece, but they did not achieve. It’s not balanced when you haven’t really researched the stories your telling either.

Just, do me a favour and when you’re reading news articles – especially ones who say they’re going to “cut through the spin” – read them extra critically.

Screw your vote. Be influential anyway.

I live in Hornsey and Wood Green, where my vote during the general election was worth the equivalent of 0.309 votes. If I voted three times, I still wouldn’t have as much say over who is in power as if I had voted in Swansea West. That is why I’m not at all surprised that 27% of people who didn’t vote say they didn’t because their vote isn’t worth anything.

Even those that did vote feel that their vote didn’t change much – the vast majority of people did not get what they wanted.

I agree that your vote has very little power. I don’t even care that you decide not to vote because of it – in fact if going to vote is in any way an inconvenience, it’s probably not worth it.

Being disappointed by their vote is where too many people opt out of politics. But the next five years after your vote is when you have the most power. Vastly more than you did in your polling station.

Remember that your MP is just a person, and they respond to lobbying the same way as you do. They will read what you send them, and if you’re persuasive enough they might completely change their mind. Even if they agree with you, you should write to them to say you support them.

MPs hold surgeries too. Although I’ve found it very tricky to attend these, or to even find out when they are, it’s a chunk of time you have with your MP and can tell them about your issues and ask questions.

There are many ways you can get in touch with your MP and try to change or reinforce their views. You just have to do them.

Adam Wagner is just a guy (with a full time job) and he (and a few others) still find time to build the amazing RightsInfo website, which I’m sure has made many MPs learn more about this issue. It’s definitely helped me understand the rights we have under attack at the moment.

Not for nothing, but your MP was once just a person, until they poured their heart into a campaign which got them elected.

Pour your heart into something. Screw your vote.

Some references:

“British Sovereignty”

It’s true, there is one court directly outside of our country’s power.* The European Court of Human Rights. It was created (by the British) because we decided, after a mad man’s government murdered and stole the freedom of millions, that no one country should be able to have that much power again.

Rules were designed, like no man can ever be punished without a trial or no government should be allowed to stop your right to privacy at home. Then we decided that we shouldn’t be our own watchmen. That decision created the ECHR. Each member of the Council of Europe would have a judge to watch over the others, to ensure these new rules were never violated.

Have they over stepped their bounds? No. The Conservative government is telling you this because they think some verdicts weren’t harsh enough, and that some cases put them in too much of a bad light. Both of those are political decisions, by men using the court system to try and get more votes.

That’s the exact reason the Court exists. It’s why we created it.

You’re a human, your mum is a human, and your children are human. Protect them.

Read some of the cases where our courts had to fall back on the European Court of Human Rights in order to keep us civil and free.

50 Stories about the Human Rights Act are doing a series of 50 storing of the Human Rights Act, and European Court of Human Rights, have helped you.

* – FYI: Not that this means we’ve lost all power – British Judges only have to take guidance from the ECHR, and ECHR isn’t a precedent setting court – they can completely ignore them if they like (and they have: ie. prisoners voting).