The Human Rights Act is invaluable in upholding liberty, and we must protect it
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These are not joyous days for the Human Rights Act. The government's recent proposals to replace it with an as-yet-unspecific piece of legislation (zestily called the British Bill of Rights) means that the legal future of human rights in the UK is uncertain.
In the aftermath of the brutal Second World War, Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill aimed to "enthrone human rights". Subsequently, the Charter of the United Nations was conceived.
The Human Rights Act (HRA) incorporated this great document into the British legal system, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. The result of these laws is to hold the 47 governments who ratified it to account. Guaranteed in this document is liberty - the greatest and noblest tradition of our country.
Liberty is the right to freedom: of speech, association, and religion. It's the right to a fair trial. It means freedom from oppression, torture, slavery, and arbitrary punishment - the precious values which our ancestors struggled to achieve, and the ideals for which we continue to struggle today. All of this is enshrined in one document: the Human Rights Act.
The Conservatives' aim to scrap the Human Rights Act as little more than a ploy to win over UKIP voters, but such a strategy is based on misinformation about the HRA.
For example, many UKIP voters believe that the HRA prevents the UK from deporting dangerous foreign criminals. This is untrue - there is no prohibition of deporting criminals within the HRA. What it does mean, however, is that we cannot deport people to countries where cruel and unusual punishments exist.
We cannot deport a suspected foreign murderer, say, if the requesting country intends to execute them. In one case (where a murder suspect was being deported to Thailand, which has the death penalty), the UK Government only agreed to deportation if a guarantee could be given that the death penalty would not be used.
The fact that a Tory government aims to undermine the HRA is genuinely puzzling.
In fact, if you take 'conservative' to mean being tough on crime, upholding justice, and defending individual liberty, it could well be said that the HRA is a profoundly conservative document.
The rights of victims of crime are upheld due to the HRA. One such example is this: a woman asked for images depicting her two young children in swimwear and dancewear to be deleted from electronic devices belonging to a family member jailed for abusing her daughter. The police refused.
The images weren't "indecent" in legal terms.Citing Article 8 of the HRA (the right to respect for private and family life), and Article 3 (the right not to be treated in a degrading way), the victim wrote to the police -- who then agreed to remove the indecent images.
The right to fair treatment was upheld due to the Human Rights Act, and justice was done.
A similar case involved defending journalistic freedom. Freedom of the press is an essential building-block of liberty in this country: it protects free expression, open and healthy debate, and holds the government to account.
These are necessary elements in a true democratic state. In 2009, a journalist from the Sunday Tribune was ordered to hand over notes containing information on the Real IRA. If these were handed over, the lives of herself and her family were threatened, as well as compromising sources. The Higher Court in Belfast rules that here sources were protected under Article 10, the freedom of expression.
The Human Rights Act is not forced on us by Brussels or Strasbourg; it is not an affront to British sovereignty. It is the most British legal document there is. It follows in worthy tradition of British liberty, upheld by everyone and everything from the Magna Carta in 1215, to On Liberty by Mill.
For these reasons, I urge you not to support the Government's future aims to repealing the Human Rights Act.
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