The Human Rights Act Debate

The Human Rights Act is something that has been in the news recently with the Conservative Government announcing as one of their election pledges that they would introduce a Bill of Rights instead of the Human Rights Act.

The Human Rights Act was made law in 2000 in the UK, and stems from the European Convention on Human Rights which was signed in 1953. It was established particularly to avoid genocides and tragedies like the Holocaust occurring again.

The proposal of the Bill of Rights has been a controversial announcement. Made even more so with the appointment of Michael Gove as Lord Chancellor who was disliked as the Minister of Education by many in the teaching industry.

The Human Rights Act debate has been made even more controversial by the recent changes to the legal system. Such as cuts to Legal Aid, where there have been £700 million cuts. The closure of courts, with 4 in 10 being closed since 2010 if current proposals succeed, and introduction of higher fees in courts, particularly for divorces has also been unpopular. It has called into question the purity of the British legal system and the welfare state.

Leftist propaganda such as Liberty have drawn on these recent changes, arguing that those exact people who have “cut Legal Aid to the poorest” are those who are going to dictate which Human Rights we keep in the new bill, if it goes through Parliament. Indeed, some leftist propaganda have called the abolition of the Human Rights Act as “akin to the crimes of Nazis”. Of course, there are always two sides to every story…

In reality, the proposed draft of the bill by the Conservatives keeps all of the current 12 clauses that are in the Human Rights Bill, but amends the UK’s connection to the European Convention on Human Rights and the court in Strasbourg. Stating that precedent set in Strasbourg would not have effect in the UK.

The debate surrounding the Human Rights Act and the Bill of Rights has drawn out interesting discussion regarding the reputation of the British legal system. Indeed, there have been extensive celebrations of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta this year and you cannot walk through Westminster Central Hall without seeing all the banners celebrating the English legal traditions.

This reputation of the British legal system is something that is instilled in the British population. However, it also feeds into the propaganda for the new Bill of Rights. David Cameron has argued that the UK is more than capable of introducing a the Bill as after all we wrote the Magna Carta. This point has also been reiterated by The Telegraph newspaper.

This debate is becoming increasingly politicised. Benedict Cumberbatch has even been involved, making a video in support of keeping the Human Rights Act rather than the Bill of Rights. This has extended the myth that the abolition of the Human Rights Act would mean the abolition of all Human Rights, when in fact this is not the case.

It will be interesting to see how far the Bill of Rights gets in draft form, as well as in Parliament, especially with a Referendum on the European Union Membership meant to take place in 2017.

Will the European Union even let the UK opt out of the European Convention of Human Rights? Or would this set a dangerous precedent for other countries in Europe?

Will David Cameron have enough support in Parliament to carry it through? Or will other matters take priority first?

And a wider implication of this debate of course, will Britain be able to maintain its reputation of an excellent legal system with all the current cuts and changes?

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