15 years on – Lib Dems up the ante on the Human Rights Act

Parliament Acts by -JvL- FLickr CCLTim Farron tweeted on Friday:



This follows the overwhelming passing of the following motion, extolling the Human Rights Act and reaffirming our whole-hearted support for it, at the Bournemouth conference:

F34 Policy motion: Human Rights Passed (Amendment One passed with lines 9-10 deleted)

Conference believes that:

I. Human rights and civil liberties are fundamental to a fair, free and open society. They are vital to ensuring that the state is appropriately constrained and accountable for its use of power.

II. Human rights laws protect everyone, not only weak and vulnerable people, for example they have:

a) Stopped the state spying on citizens, supported peaceful protest and protected soldiers.

b) Helped rape victims, defended domestic violence victims and guarded against slavery.

c) Enhanced media freedom, protected whistle-blowers and provided answers for grieving families.

d) Preserved the right to a fair trial, prevented indiscriminate stop-and-search and protected minorities.

e) Helped elderly people subjected to physical abuse in their care homes and patients who suffered inhumane and degrading treatment at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust.

f) Ended corporal punishment in schools and protected parents’ rights in care proceedings.

III. Liberal Democrats recognise the leading role the UK took in drawing up the European Convention on Human Rights after the Second World War, based on long-standing British traditions of civil liberties.

IV. Membership of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is particularly important for the UK because among its 46 signatories the UK is in a very small minority in not having its own written constitution.

V. The UK has a vital role in showing world leadership in the upholding of universal human rights, which would be wrecked by the UK joining the pariah states who reject international human rights agreements.

VI. While UK law enforcement and intelligence agencies have a vital role in protecting the public and investigating criminal activity, we must ensure the state does not over-reach the bounds set by the ECHR in pursuing those roles.

VII. Transparency and independent scrutiny of the activities of security agencies is vital.

Conference applauds the fact that Liberal Democrats in Government in the last Parliament blocked Conservative plans to repeal the Human Rights Act and the Conservatives’ Communications Data Bill (the so-called ‘Snoopers’ Charter’) which would have forced internet service providers to keep records of citizens’ texts, emails and every website visited. Conference notes that the previous Labour Government attempted to introduce similar legislation.

Conference is therefore deeply alarmed by:

i) The threat posed to human rights in the United Kingdom by Conservative plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, which could weaken the protection of human rights in Britain, including the right to privacy and family life.

ii) The unwillingness of many Conservatives to accept the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and to abide by the UK’s international treaty obligation under the Convention.

iii) The prospect that the UK may leave, or be forced out of, the ECHR if plans supported by some Conservatives are implemented, depriving our citizens of the protection of the Convention and the Strasbourg Court and destroying the UK’s capacity to lead on human rights internationally.

iv) The threat to the peace and stability of Northern Ireland posed by the potential repeal of the Human Rights Act, which implemented a key element of the Good Friday Agreement 1998 to incorporate the ECHR into Northern Ireland law.

v) Proposals included in the Queen’s Speech, which are similar to those in the Communications Data Bill, and which would lead to the bulk collection of information by internet service providers.

vi) The Conservatives’ opposition to recommendations in the report by David Anderson QC for more accountable security services, including judicial approval for requests to intercept communications.

Conference resolves to:

A. Champion human rights and the UK’s membership of the ECHR.

B. Challenge misleading accounts of the effects of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act.

C. Retain the Human Rights Act unless it is replaced with a Bill of Rights which incorporates and builds on those rights set out in the ECHR with the critical mechanisms of the Human Rights Act which relate to public authorities, legislation and courts in the UK; and oppose any attempts by Conservatives to introduce a British Bill of Rights which does not achieve this.

D. Oppose measures called for by the Conservatives, such as the bulk collection of data by internet service providers, which would lead to a disproportionate level of surveillance of members of the public.

Conference also calls for:

1. A Digital Bill of Rights, to define and enshrine the digital rights of the citizen, including:

a) The principle that everyone has the right to control their own data.

b) The right to use strong encryption to protect privacy and security.

c) The principle that public bodies should only be able to invade an individual’s privacy where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

2. A new Freedoms Act, to protect citizens from excessive state power, including:

a) Measures to protect free speech and the right to cause offence.

b) Measures to prevent heavy handed policing with tighter regulation of ‘kettling’.

c) Tighter rules on the use of CCTV and facial images.

3. The Government to demonstrate its commitment to human rights by:

a) Ratifying, acceding to and incorporating into domestic law all outstanding protocols of the European Convention on Human Rights, including but not limited to:

i) Protocol 1, Article 2 (Right to education).

ii) Protocol 4 (Right of free movement).

iii) Protocol 7 (Rights of those accused of a crime).

iv) Protocol 12 (Right of non-discrimination).

This motion reaffirms and updates policy on human rights most recently set out in the General Election Manifesto, Stronger Economy. Fairer Society. Opportunity for Everyone (2015), policy motion A Digital Bill of Rights (2014), policy paper 117, Power to the People (2014), and policy motion Human Rights (2013).

Photo of British parliamentary acts by -JvL Flickr CCL

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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3 Comments

  • We also need to strongly oppose the new proposals regarding to “extemist” speech. Not only wrong, in principle, but very wooly indeed in the definition (perhaps deliberately).

  • Denis Loretto 5th Oct '15 - 11:40am

    I would have preferred to see the undernoted clause worded as a straight commitment to defend retention of the (British) Human Rights Act –

    “Retain the Human Rights Act unless it is replaced with a Bill of Rights which incorporates and builds on those rights set out in the ECHR with the critical mechanisms of the Human Rights Act which relate to public authorities, legislation and courts in the UK; and oppose any attempts by Conservatives to introduce a British Bill of Rights which does not achieve this.”

    Surely it is absolutely clear that the only purpose of any attempt by the Tories to replace the Human Rights Act is to water down its provisions. I reckon it is very naive to introduce the prospect of a replacement that would actually “incorporate and build on those rights set out in the ECHR” and I hope our MPs will stick firmly to defence of what Liberty rightly calls “our” Human Rights Act.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Oct '15 - 12:11pm

    At the Northern Ireland meeting at Bournemouth we were told that the Human Rights Act is integral to the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement. The consequences of removing it are unclear.
    There would also be consequences for legislation affecting Scotland and Wales. As with EU membership there may be a risk that the SNP would argue for a separate and separatist policy.

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