Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Liberty and Human Rights

Attended the Liberty AGM on Saturday at Manchester University. Inspiring and thought-provoking. Harrowing tales of government and institutional abuse and how using the Human Rights Act (HRA) has brought justice into some victims lives. Set out below is a letter sent to my local paper, the Buxton Advertiser. In this disgraceful election of threats, bribes and lies there has been a remarkable absence of discussion on key issues such as surveillance, education, climate change, privatisation, foreign policy etc. This is one attempt to begin a debate.

Last week saw the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belsen. After the war, to ensure that such horrors would never happen again, Winston Churchill and fellow conservative Lord Kilmuir, were instrumental in drafting what was to become the European Convention on Human Rights. In 1998 the Human Rights Act (HRA) was passed in the UK with cross party support. This was a landmark for defining democratic, civilised values.
The HRA acts as a bastion against the misuse of power by the state or agencies acting on behalf of the state e.g. police, military police, security services - and even local government officials. Article 2 of the Act - the right to life - has been used to help the Hillsborough families seeking justice for the 96 victims. The same part of the act has been used to help reform the military justice system and obtain justice for victims of domestic violence and other attacks. 
Article 8 of the Act, the right to privacy has been opposed by the press, particularly the tabloids, because it limits their lucrative ‘kiss and tell’ stories.
Unsurprisingly the media has undermined the HRA whenever it can. The government has also proved to be incompetent at following due process which has for example slowed down the process of deportation i.e. Abu Hamza.  Another example where the Act has allowed the truth to come out is the story of Naomi Bryant who was killed by convicted sex offender Anthony Rice while he was freed on licence from prison. Using Article 2 Naomi’s mother secured an inquest - which otherwise would not have happened - which concluded that Naomi was unlawfully killed due to an astounding series of institutional failings by the prison, parole board, probation services and other agencies. Tellingly, Ministers responsible for these same agencies had tried originally to blame the HRA for Rice’s release. Equally tellingly, the truth about the incident did not receive coverage in the media. This is a regular occurrence. 
Speaking about the HRA at the Tory party conference in 2011 Theresa May said, “The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat.” This turned out like so many similar cases to be completely untrue. She was making it up! The reality was that yet again her department had not followed due process and had in effect screwed up. 
The Conservatives and UKIP have both promised to repeal the HRA and replace it with a Bill of Rights. Why do they want to do this?  The government can deport criminals and terrorists now as long as they follow due process.It appears that the only reason is to protect them from further revelations of their incompetence. What will be in the new Bill of Rights? We do not know but former Tory Attorney General Dominic Grieve dismissed the draft last October as “Legally illiterate”. This is great cause for concern. Can we trust them? Look at what they have done to Legal Aid. They have effectively prevented most of us from getting access to the justice system.

The HRA is not the terrorist’s friend as painted by the tabloids. It is our friend. It protects us from injustice, it helps us speak out freely, it helps keep our private lives private and it keeps an over powerful and incompetent state in check and holds politicians to account.

Is this the reason the HRA has not been mentioned in the current appalling election campaign?

Update 30/4/15
The letter was not published. Fancy that. Will consider sending an amended version to other  papers.

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