Our human rights are some of the most longstanding British traditions alive, often dated all the way back to Magna Carta. Somewhat conversely though, they feel continually under threat, with one expert saying recent questions over their future could leave us a “rung below Russia”.
The Human Rights Convention has been part of most of our lives for as long as we can remember – or in my case, the entirety of my life. However, with the deadline for Brexit looming ever nearer, there are growing fears that vital protections could be sidelined after we leave the bloc.
Just last month, the House of Lords sounded the alarm about the security of the Human Rights Act (the mechanism that protects our rights here in the UK), after Government ministers failed to write off the chance it could be reviewed.
Meanwhile, a Westminister Hall debate on the importance of human rights has been scheduled by SNP politician Tommy Sheppard. But just how likely is it these protections could vanish, and how important are they really?
‘You Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone’
Image Credit: Jack Satchell / RightsInfo
“Most people never really have cause to think very much about their human rights,” Tommy Sheppard MP explains to RightsInfo. “They certainly never have to go to court to uphold them, and most people probably don’t know somebody who has ever had to go to court to uphold their human rights. But, the fact that they’re there gives us a better quality of life every day.”
Most people don’t know somebody who has ever had to go to court to uphold their human rights, but the fact that they’re there gives us a better quality of life every day.
Tommy Sheppard MP
Speaking ahead of his debate on Wednesday, 13 February, he continues: “I think it’s important for those people who want to protect those things to be very aware and very conscious that not everyone shares their point of view – there are people in the political debate who wish to see those protections weakened, and they will take the opportunity to do that if we just give it to them.”
A Split Along Party Lines
Former Prime Minister David Cameron (Image Credit: The Open University / Flickr)
Our human rights protections in the UK have undeniably been on shaky terms during the past few decades. The Human Rights Act (HRA) formally brought protections into British law under Tony Blair’s premiership, however, almost immediately David Cameron’s Conservative Government strongly rallied to repeal the Act and replace it with their own version.
In a world of Brexit and Trump, it’s very difficult to predict [what happens next].
Elspeth Berry, Nottingham Law School
For the most part, plans to scrap or review the Act have been shelved while Parliament works on Brexit, however, as the deadline for leaving the EU approaches, concerns surfaced about what happens next, with few reassurances coming from Theresa May’s Government.
‘There Might Not Be The Political Energy’
Featured Image Credit: Number 10 / Flickr
“In a world of Brexit and President Trump, it is very difficult to predict,” says Elspeth Berry, a reader in law at Nottingham Law School. “Parliament is likely to split much more on party lines for the repeal of the HRA than it has done for Brexit, but, of course, the Conservatives and DUP only have a small majority.
“I suspect that the Conservatives would have the numbers to get it through,” she continues, “but there may not be the political energy until Brexit is fully concluded, and that could take years.”
A debate on the future of the Human Rights Act is taking place in Parliament today. @TommySheppard (SNP): “There’s a lot of unfinished business, particularly as concerns what happens after Brexit.” pic.twitter.com/U7S6bCiJdo
— RightsInfo (@rights_info) February 13, 2019
Time and energy is a concern also shared by Gary McIndoe, a specialist immigration law solicitor at Latitude Law. “It would be a major change if it was all taken away, for sure,” he tells RightsInfo. “There are some areas where there are already measures which would obviously replace the protections afforded by the HRA – data rights for example – but there are lots of articles in the convention.
“Trying to replicate all those protections in domestic law… It’s partially there, but it would take creating a complete code, which would be years of work. And, you know, the Government has got a lot on its plate at the moment.”
‘It’s Internationally Embarrassing’
Human rights can sometimes become a Westminister scapegoat. (Image Credit: Danny Romero / Unsplash)
However, while Elspeth and Gary remain unsure about both the likelihood and logistics of repealing the HRA, they’re both clear about the wide-reaching effects of pulling out of the Act and Convention. Essentially, if the UK were to pull out of the Act, we’d still be bound by the Convention – but pulling out of this would cause real problems.
It puts us a rung below Russia and Azerbaijan and it’s internationally embarassing.
Gary McIndoe, immigration law solicitor at Latitude Law
“Ducking out of the Convention on Human Rights is a massive step,” adds Gary. “Some of the other countries who signed up to it and remain signed up to it are Russia and Azerbaijan. It puts us a rung below them and it’s internationally embarrassing.”
“Rather like the EU, it has been convenient for British politicians and some elements of the press to incorrectly blame everything on human rights,” says Elspeth. “As a result, a lot of people don’t appreciate how important those rights are to them, their families, and the way society works. They are about protecting what are, for most people, our most fundamental wishes.”
So, where exactly does this leave us? Well, according to Tommy, it’s all about making our views heard. “In the words of the Joni Mitchell song, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” tells RightsInfo. “There are some people who would very much like to see the repeal of the HRA, which is why debates like this one in Parliament are important to remind the Government of the strength of feeling there is.”