Human Rights Act Reform Among Armistice Day Election Pledges
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Human Rights Act Reform Among Armistice Day Election Pledges

By Aaron Walawalkar, News and Digital Editor 11 Nov 2019
Age, Institutions, Justice
Birmingham Flickrmeet November 2016 Back to review progress on the Chamberalain Square developments

Veterans are being targeted with a series of election policy announcements on Armistice Day, including a pledge intended to prevent British soldiers from facing legal claims over historic human rights issues. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday (11 November) a pledge to reform the Human Rights Act (HRA) so that it does not apply to issues which took place before the law came into effect in 2000.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke of improving housing for armed forces personnel and providing support for their children, as well as boosting wages.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, have vowed to waive leave to remain fees for armed forces personnel who are born outside the UK.

Human Rights Act

Johnson argued that HRA reform would protect veterans from “vexatious” legal action, namely in relation to deaths that took place during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The announcement came a day after the publication of a report produced by the think tank Policy Exchange. The report was endorsed by former US Army General David Petraeus.

In a introduction to the report, Mr Petraeus wrote: “The extension of the [European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR)] to the battlefield has made extensive litigation against British soldiers inevitable…This is not only unfair to those who have served and sacrificed for their country, it also gravely undermines the morale of those serving now and raises an unnecessary concern for potential recruits.”

The Human Rights Act was passed in 1998, and brought the protections provided in the ECHR into domestic UK law. In practice this meant that UK citizens could go to their local court to exercise their human rights, rather than having to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Image Credit: Andy Hall / Flickr.

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, chair of EachOther, said that the Conservatives’ proposal to amend the HRA suggests the party will not resurrect its 2015 manifesto pledge to scrap the Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. However, he also questioned what the party’s new policy could achieve in practice.

Taking to Twitter, he wrote: “The HRA doesn’t really apply to issues which took place before October 2000, with one exception, which is that sometimes it is necessary under the right to life (Article 2) to investigate deaths where is potential state complicity, and this can sometimes apply pre-2000.

“The problem with amending the HRA to say that no deaths which occurred before 2000 need to be investigated is that the European Court of Human Rights has made clear that the state does have to investigate pre-2000 deaths where there has been state complicity.”

This means that people will ultimately be led to the court in Strasbourg, where the European Court is likely to say the death must be investigated, he added.

The Conservative Party has also promised extra childcare for military families and a new railcard for veterans.

Working Conditions

The Labour Party announced five main pledges to support the armed forces and their families.

Among these is a plan to scrap the public sector pay gap, which according to the party’s analysis has resulted in a 5.8 percent pay cut in the starting salary of an Army Private.

It also pledged to consult on creating a representative body for servicemen and women – akin to the Police Federation – and to ensure “decent housing” for forces and their families by ending the “growing reliance on the private rented sector.”

Leave To Remain Fees

The Liberal Democrats have vowed to scrap indefinite leave to remain fees for former service personnel born outside of the UK and their families, describing the fees as “excessive.”

The processing fees for their applications to settle in Britain have increased threefold since 2007 – from £750 to £2,389, according to party’s analysis. This would set a family back by almost £10,000.

The party estimates that it only costs the Home Office £243 to process each application.

Featured Image Credit: Tim Ellis / Flickr.

Adam Wagner is the founder of EachOther and chair of its board of trustees. He played no role in writing this article. 

About The Author

Aaron Walawalkar News and Digital Editor

Aaron is an NCTJ-accredited multimedia journalist focussing on human rights. His extensive reporting on rough sleeping in east London has been nominated for multiple awards. He has worked for regional and national newspapers and produced illustrations, infographics and videos for humanitarian organisation RedR UK.

Aaron is an NCTJ-accredited multimedia journalist focussing on human rights. His extensive reporting on rough sleeping in east London has been nominated for multiple awards. He has worked for regional and national newspapers and produced illustrations, infographics and videos for humanitarian organisation RedR UK.