Following the cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, the push from within the Conservatives to repeal the Human Rights Act and remove the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights with a British Bill of Rights in its place now seems firmly in the forefront of our political debate.
The most notable change was clearly William Hague’s surprise departure from Foreign Secretary and announcement that he would stand down as an MP next year but the most significant change was the sacking of Dominic Grieve from Attorney General. Serving as the Chief Legal advisor in the government, he had provided sound advice over the last four years on Britain’s place within the ECHR and more recently our relationship with the EU.
Despite the major risks associated with departure from the ECHR including undermining human rights in Europe and a risk to our EU membership, it does beg the question, where do the Tories want to go with this? It’s no secret that they are big fans of Parliamentary Supremacy, in particular with regards to British Sovereignty in that they “want to make the Supreme Court supreme,” but that doesn’t necessitate a British Bill of Rights, unless they believe the ECHR is fundamentally at odds with Britain.
The generally held belief among the Tories appears to be that the ECHR is dictating to us what we should be able to decide ourselves in our domestic parliaments on issues such as deportation and prisoner voting rights. Fundamentally what they fail to understand is the principles in which the convention was written, but also who wrote it. David Maxwell-Fyfe, the Conservative MP and most notable lawyer who drafted the convention, did so on the back of his work in the Nuremberg Trails and in the widely held belief that nothing on the scale of WWII human rights abuses could ever be allowed to happen again.
With this in mind, the newly formed Council of Europe aimed to set a common standard across the European continent for the respect of human rights, and so the ECHR was born and survives to this day. As a directive and as a law embodied in the Human Rights Act, we’ve protected human rights in the UK and Europe as part of this common standard.
Human rights are not something that can be repealed or taken away but something we must protect within every inch of our ability. They extend to everyone. The ECHR sets the bar in countries that are signatories but as an important principle of its creation, it sets the bar to all people where it can, which is a principle I will not readily give up. Human rights by their nature are something equal to everyone, what we recognise as a human right should not be subject to nationality or where someone lives, so when David Maxwell Fyfe drafted what he believed to be fundamental human rights, why wouldn’t we wish to extend that as far as we could?
* Jonathan Waddell is a History and Economics student at the University of Aberdeen and President of the Aberdeen University Liberal Democrats.