Sunday, May 10, 2015

Repealing Our Humanity

Six months ago it would have been quite a funny joke - if the Tories get a majority they'll repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a bill of rights drawn up by Michael Gove.

As axeman Education Secretary, Gove tore through at such a pace that by the time the opposition had mobilised his plans were all inked and in train. We can expect the same style in his new role as Justice Secretary. Already the Tories are making loud noises about prioritising their manifesto promise to repeal the Human Rights Act (except in Scotland) and having it in the forthcoming Queen's speech.

The tabloid press hate human rights because they protect us from the kind of breaches of privacy that make stories that editors salivate over.

Despite Tories, Ukippers and other right wingers using the blanket term 'Europe', the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights are nothing to do with the EU. Leaving the EU wouldn't affect our human rights at all.

It's part of being a member of the larger, older Council of Europe. It was formed by the Treaty of London in 1949 as part of the rebuilding of Europe after the war and the effort to create stable structures that prevented such legal state horrors from being perpetrated again.

Far from being something imposed on us from outside, the UK was the first country to ratify the ECHR after years of enthusiastic input from someone who features on Tory and UKIP leaflets to this day.

Then there is the question of human rights… We attach great importance to this… we hope that a European Court might be set up, before which cases of the violation of rights in our own body of twelve nations might be brought to the judgement of the civilized world.

- Winston Churchill, Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, 17 August 1949

The court came ten years later, in Strasbourg. It cost a lot of money to bring a case there. But in 1998 Labour brought in the Human Rights Act, which made the Convention enforceable in UK courts (and obliged government to ensure new legislation is compatible with the ECHR).

Repealing the Act doesn't actually remove our rights. It means that once again, you'll have to have the greater levels of time and money required to take a case to Strasbourg. So human rights will only effectively exist for the rich. The rest of us become not human, the rest of us become untermensch.

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