The Human Right Act gets a stay of execution

By Yousif Farah

Amnesty International

Prior to the recent General Elections the Conservatives had pledged to replace “The Human Rights Act” with a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. However, there seemed to be no mention of it in the Queen’s Speech, at the opening of Parliament on Wednesday.

It is not the first time the Conservatives have attempted to push their bill through: there was a similar attempt during the last coalition Government but it was blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservatives, who won the election with a 12 seat majority, would have struggled to get the bill through the Commons and Lords as both SNP and Labour and whoever remained from the Liberal Democrats would have voted against it. Furthermore, some of the party’s own back benchers, many of whom are in the judiciary, are opposed to the measure.

However, some senior party figures seem adamant that it is only a matter of time, and that the Bill will be delivered sooner or later.  Liz Truss, the Conservative environmental secretary says:
“Absolutely the plans are going to be delivered at some point because it was a clear manifesto pledge “

Meanwhile, human right groups expressed a level of caution following the development. Kate Allen, Amnesty International Director in the UK, said she remained “very worried”. Whereas, Liberty director Shami Chakrabati called it heartening but added:

“There is a long struggle ahead but time is the friend of freedom”

The Human Rights Act received Royal Assent on 9 November 1998 and came into force in England on 2 October 2000. It was introduced to bring The European Convention on Human Rights closer to home through incorporating into UK law the rights contained in the convention.

Among the rights contained in the convention: the right to life, prohibition of torture and inhumane treatment, protection against slavery, the right to a fair trial and the right to free speech and protest.
The European Convention on Human Rights is an international treaty aimed at protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms in Europe. It was drafted in 1950 and came into force on 3 September 1953. The UK was the first country to ratify the treaty.

Over the years since the introduction of the act many cases were decided through the implementation of the HRA. An illustration of the application of the act could be found in S and Marper v United Kingdom, where the UK courts ruled that it was legal to retain fingerprints, cellar samples and DNA profiles of individuals who have not been convicted of an offence.  Strasbourg held the approach to be disproportionate as well as an infringement of the person’s right to a private life contrary to Article 8 of the convention.

Another illustration is the 2009 A v United Kingdom case, a case in which it was decided that the detaining of 11 non-national terror suspects was legitimate. The European Court of Human Rights deemed the judgment both disproportionate and discriminatory and in breach of Article 5 of the convention which emphasises the right to liberty.

Amnesty International is launching a campaign to preserve the Human Rights Act. If you agree that the current Act should be retained please visit.

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