Tag Archives: human rights act

Five ideas to fight for

Five ideasAnthony Lester, the Liberal Democrat peer, lawyer and “the most eminent human rights lawyer in Britain” has been interviewed by the Huffington Post.  He highlights how, as a Jew, he was exposed to prejudice and discrimination from a young age, starting with the loss of relatives in the Holocaust, and later in the army when he was barred from attending a dance in the officer’s mess to “prevent miscegenation”.

As a barrister he devoted a large amount of his life to combating discrimination, and he also worked with Roy Jenkins, then Labour Home Secretary, on developing laws against race and sex discrimination. Later he fought for the Human Rights Act.

Anthony’s new book Five Ideas To Fight For will be published this week. He focuses on the ‘big ideas’ of human rights, equality, free speech, privacy and rule of law. He is very worried about the future of the Human Rights Act, which the current government is planning to repeal and replace with a British Bill of Rights.

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

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

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The Conservatives are trampling on Churchill’s legacy

Winston Churchill once said that the “mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country”. A “calm, dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused, and even of the convicted criminal” was a symbol of “the stored-up strength of a nation and sign and proof of the living virtue in it”.

Under this government, however, we as a nation are increasingly departing from the values espoused by Churchill, and enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which made Britain a leading light on a global scale in the field of civil liberties. The Conservative government’s attack on the Human Rights Act, its lack of conviction in defending our membership of both the European Union and the ECHR and the stance it has taken in the face of the current humanitarian crisis created by the flow of refugees into Europe all illustrate the deeply concerning path onto which this government is leading our country. All of these developments in the brief period since a new majority Conservative government was formed in May have demonstrated more clearly than ever why this country needs the Liberal Democrats.

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Conference Countdown 2015: Human Rights motion – we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water

As many will know, there is an excellent motion on Human Rights to be debated at the Bournemouth conference. I have set out the motion below this post.

I have one query which readers may be to help me with.

It pertains to this section of the motion:

Conference resolves to:
…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 and oppose any attempts by Conservatives to introduce a British Bill of Rights which does not achieve this.

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The Human Rights Act 1998: Why this must always be protected

Human Rights ActAfter the 2015 general election, David Cameron announced that during his time in government he will try and scrap the Human Rights Act of 1998 and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. After this statement only one thought sprung to mind: has David Cameron officially lost it?

However with David Cameron’s small majority, I hardly think this motion will be accepted among the MPs of the House of Commons, let alone the great British public.

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Opinion: Three small ways in which a British Bill of Rights could improve on the Human Rights Act 1998

Every_Canadian_Needs_A_Copy

The title of this piece is fairly self-explanatory. As such, I shall get straight into the substance of my proposals:

1) Whereas any interference with a person’s human rights must be “necessary in a democratic society” according to the Human Rights Act 1998, let’s replace this test with “necessary in a free and democratic society” in the forthcoming British Bill of Rights

In recent years, it has become apparent that many in political life, as well as in our judiciary, would benefit from a liberal nudge when it comes to deciding cases involving our civil liberties. For the sake of brevity, I am not going to revisit every controversy in this regard, but suffice it to say, the Brown Government’s proposals for 42 days pre-charge detention, the Coalition’s plans to sanction “annoying and nuisance” behaviours in public places and the current Government’s proposals to turn Ofcom into a censor rather than review body were / are extremely concerning given our cherished status as a free country.

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The LDV debate: Is the Human Rights Act undemocratic and illiberal? – Part two – this time it’s Thai fish

summer extravaganza

The legendary Newbury & West Berkshire Liberal Democrat Summer Extravangaza, in idyllic surroundings, reaches its climax last Saturday with the drawing of the 200 club winners by local spokesperson Judith Bunting. But, beneath the genteel veneer, a member of the LDV team was disquietly seething with indignation over an assault on the credentials of the European Convention on Human Rights

We published an article by David Cooper on May 20th under by the title The Human Rights Act – undemocratic and illiberal.

There was an excellent debate in the comments thread underneath the article.

After being approached by David over Thai fish at the Newbury and West Berkshire Liberal Democrats Summer Extravaganza, I started the following correspondence on the matter, which David has given his permission for me to publish.

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LibLink: Tom Brake – The Human Rights Act

Over at the party website, Tom Brake has been writing about the importance of the Human Rights Act. The Tories may have apparently watered down planned action to repeal it but they are absolutely desperate to do so. The last thing we should be doing is letting up our campaign to convince the public about the need for the protections the ECHR and Human Rights Act provide.

He outlines some of the people who have been helped by the HRA.

Take for example, 90-year-olds Richard and Beryl Driscoll. They lived together for more than 65 years until, in 2006, he was moved into a residential care home.

He could not walk unaided and she was blind. She relied on her husband as her eyes and he relied on her for his mobility.

They wanted to remain together but the council said it wasn’t possible to accommodate them in the same nursing home.

But thanks to a campaign that argued their treatment breached their human rights – specifically their right to a family life – the council were forced to back down and they were reunited.

It’s difficult to believe that, without the protection afforded to them by the HRA, there would have been a happy ending.

The same is true in Europe too. Up until 2004, it was possible for two gay men to be prosecuted for having sex if one was aged 16 or 17, even though it was legal for heterosexual couples.

This blatant unfairness was only removed as a result of an ECHR ruling, one the right to a private life, a clause that causes heartless Tories such distress.

And, in 2002, a male-to-female transsexual – asked Strasbourg to determine whether there had been a violation of her right to respect and family life.

Why? Because Britain did not legally recognise her changed gender and did not let her marry. Her victory was a huge step forward in the battle for trans-equality in this country.

Our current human rights legislation has also blocked blanket interception of private messages by the state, protected our right to a fair trial and prevented indiscriminate police stop-and-search.

You can read the whole article here.

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Lamb and Farron launch Liberal Democrat campaign to save the Human Rights Act

Both leadership candidates have joined forces to launch the Liberal Democrat campaign to save the Human Rights Act from destruction. This is yet another of these things that the Tories would have quite happily done at any point in the last five years but were prevented from doing so because of the Liberal Democrats. Way back in January 2010, I wrote of my horror at Cameron’s comments in an Andrew Marr interview:

“The moment a burglar steps over your threshold……they leave their human rights outside”

I mean, what cheap, populist rubbbish. If you take his words to their logical conclusion, they could be taken as an incitement to virtually anything.

Now, burglary is horrible. I have friends whose house has been done over twice in the last few years and I’ve seen how traumatised they were. I’m not suggesting it’s soemthing that shoud go unpunished. Let’s get that clear before I get any “you’re soft on crime” thrown at me.

However if a burglar “leaves his human rights outside” what is Cameron giving licence to? Kicking them where it hurts? Bopping them over the head with a frying pan? Stabbing them? Calling your mates over to give them a good hiding?

I mean, if these people have no right to be treated as human beings, where do you stop?

I found it quite scary to hear such nonsense coming from somebody who thinks he’s going to be Prime Minister in a few months.

It doesn’t make me feel particularly safe to hear Cameron talk like this. I can only see an approach on his lines leading to more dead people, householders and burglars. I don’t really think we need to change the law.

Whatever differences our leadership candidates have, they are both totally committed to preserving the Human Rights Act which has:

  • Stopped the state spying on us, supported peaceful protest and protected soldiers.
  • Helped rape victims, defended domestic violence victims and guarded against slavery.
  • Supported those in care, shielded press freedom and provided answers for grieving families.
  • Preserved our right to a fair trial, prevented indiscriminate stop-and-search and protected minorities.
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LibLink: Catherine Bearder MEP: How can Britain celebrate Magna Carta and contemplate leaving ECHR in the same year?

Catherine Bearder MEP has co-written an article for the New Statesman on the Conservatives’ plans to abolish the Human Rights Act. She said:

Fundamental rights, the rule of law and democratic principles are frequently violated in nearly all EU member states. In some cases, the violations are serious and systematic.  The current Hungarian government is one of the most egregious offenders. In recent years we have seen critical media gagged, the electoral law changed to secure an absolute majority for the governing party, opposition parties weakened and the independence of the judiciary undermined. But there are many other examples across Europe: the anti-gay laws in Lithuania, the deportation of Roma people from France, the inhumane treatment of underage asylum seekers in the Netherlands and the collective disregard shown for the law and civil liberties in many countries’ counter-terrorism policies.

We lose our moral authority if we tolerate torture, secret prisons, abduction, and indefinite detention without fair trials. These ugly blots tarnish Europe’s status as a shining beacon of freedom and human rights in the world. EU governments must be held accountable for these crimes, including and especially those committed in the name of defending democracy.

That is why we need legal instruments to uphold our common values, even if this means that sometimes national authorities are overruled.  EU member states have voluntarily signed up to these supranational laws and conventions for good reason.  It is the essence of democracy that those in power are bound by laws and their powers are limited.  That may sometimes be awkward, but these checks and balances are the vital safeguards which protect us against abuse of power by the state.

These principles are not left or right-wing, nor are they alien to British culture. Quite the opposite: safeguarding citizens’ rights and the rule of law have their roots in that ancient, famous document that we are celebrating this year.

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Opinion: The Human Rights Act – undemocratic and illiberal

COE-Logo-Quadri

Liberals (with a small “L”) believe that society should not be governed by immutable dogma. New laws can be created when required and old laws changed or removed. Immutable revelation only applies to religion.

Not everyone believes that laws should be subject to the uncertainty of the democratic process. For decades the Soviet Union relied on the absolute principles of Marx and Lenin. Some religions provide God-given legal codes. But for liberals, laws are the work of humans and must be subject to democratic change.

It is therefore strange that the Liberal Democratics support the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which cannot be amended or corrected by our democratic process, or indeed any democratic process. Changes to its existing provisions must be unanimously agreed by members of the Council of Europe (which despite its name is completely independent of the EU): its 47 member states include countries as diverse as Russia, Turkey and Monaco.

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Opinion: Human Rights Reform – where the nuance could be more dangerous than the headline

The Conservative Majority government has recently announced the Michael Gove is to be our new justice secretary, and that part of his agenda is the Conservative manifesto promise to scrap the Human Rights Act. The Conservatives claims this would

Break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights

in order to

imit the use of human rights laws to the most serious cases,

a promise that turns the stomach of most Liberal Democrats I know committed to universal rights.

Perhaps if the plans did not, as former Attorney General Dominic Grieve described, contain “a number of howlers” the Conservatives would be less convinced by the need for reform or even the prospect of their success. I don’t claim to be more than a law student (and a procrastinating one at that) and but here I’m going to contribute some brief comments taken from a year of public law essays.

Firstly, the Human Rights Act has been fundamentally significant. It lets us in the UK rely on our rights in the European Convention on Human Rights in UK courts for the first time, increasing human rights cases significantly including detention, immigration, privacy, voting and so much more. Until the Act, these cases had to exhaust UK courts and then if UK law prevented judges from upholding these rights they could take their case to the European Court of Human Rights – a process than took about 5 years.

Posted in Op-eds | 22 Comments

Opinion: Human Rights – A call to arms

“David Cameron will launch a 100-day policy offensive…” states the Sunday Times, reporting on the Conservatives’ predicted assault on Europe and Human Rights just days after they secured the most surprising election victory in living memory.

While Liberal Democrat and Labour Party opinion-formers are calling for internal debates on the future of their respective parties, the Conservatives are moving in and preparing to push through legislation that is dangerous, destructive and most of all, frightening.

The Human Rights Act (HRA) should be esteemed as highly as the NHS. Receiving Royal Assent in 1998, the HRA is, in my view, the cornerstone of …

Posted in Op-eds | 16 Comments

Liberal Democrat members support proposed changes to planning rules, just

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 550 party members responded, and we’re currently publishing the full results.

Our latest survey of party members finds a small majority backing the government’s controversial plans for the planning system in England. By a margin of 48% – 39% Liberal Democrat members in the survey supported the scheme to cut central control over planning but also introduce a presumption in favour of development if plans are sustainable and in line with local policies.

However, …

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Theresa May succeeds where Nadine Dorries failed

As I quipped during Liberal Democrat conference, one of the most popular Conservative MPs with party activists is Nadine Dorries, courtesy of that question at PMQs.

Today Home Secretary Theresa May has shown rather more political skill in making a very similar point. Talking to the Sunday Telegraph, she’s said that “personally” she would “like” to see the Human Rights Act go.

It’s a skilful move because by using that phrasing she isn’t triggering any stories of coalition meltdown. Liberal Democrats saying the Human Rights Act won’t go and Tories saying they personally would like it to go aren’t contradictory …

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LibLink | Nick Clegg: “Human beings need human rights – in Britain as well as Libya”

Nick Clegg writes this evening at Comment is Free on the need for the British government to uphold human rights at home as well as abroad. He describes the strengths of British human rights laws, and reminds that the Liberal Democrats will continue to support them in the face of the Tories’ rhetoric or moves to renegotiate them.

Britain has a proud history of international leadership on human rights. It was our political leadership and legal expertise that led to the creation of the European convention on human rights in 1950, a convention modelled on centuries of English law.

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Opinion: Are hyper-injunctions compatible with the Human Rights Act?

“Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.” That famous aphorism is commonly quoted, though perhaps not in the courts that hand down hyper-injunctions whose very existence is kept secret on the pain of imprisonment. This incredible situation was exposed in Parliament by John Hemming MP, whose work deserves to be widely read.

When you read a hyper-injunction what strikes you is the sheer sweeping arrogance of the way they make themselves almost totally secret. One of the many questions raised these injunctions is how they can be compatible with …

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Opinion: a British Bill of Rights should include judicial review of legislation

British people’s attitude to fundamental rights is deteriorating alarmingly. Liberal Democrats in government have a key opportunity to reverse the trend.

When the incoming Labour Government issued ‘Bringing Rights Home’, in the wake of the UK having the worst human rights record in terms of adverse judgments except Turkey, we all applauded.

But the weasel words of the Human Rights act, which explicitly ruled out judicial review of legislation (as happens in Canada under the Charter, and has happeed in the USA since Marbury -v- Madison) has created a climate where the majority of the British people now think that fundamental …

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Opinion: Healthy scepticism alive and well among Liberty’s ranks

At the weekend Liberty held its AGM. Jo Shaw was there…

We are, as our esteemed director, Shami Chakrabarti said on Saturday “a gobby lot”. In that, the Liberty membership share much in common with the membership of the Lib Dems. Both share a tradition of being unwilling to shut up, of asking difficult questions and not necessarily toeing the line which might be expected or helpful for the leadership.

Liberty was formed 76 years ago in response to police brutality against protestors against hunger and unemployment. Police tactics at demonstrations and the politics of dissent are currently high in …

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The Independent View: How do we stop the growth of the surveillance state?

From any dispassionate view, it’s clear that the Liberal Democrats have consistently believed that the protection of our right to privacy is vital for a free and open society.

However, protecting that fragile right is a complex process that requires genuine and tangible policy objectives that will make a real difference. To reverse the rise of surveillance is a task that goes to the heart of how we are governed. Making a real difference will require a courageous agenda of change that reaches deep into the powerful institutions of parliament and government.

There is no doubt in the …

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