Cllr Alan Hall has joined charities, voluntary groups and trades unionists by signing a statement supported by more than 60 civil society organisations objecting to the Government’s plans to “weaken human rights protections in the UK”.

The Human Rights Act establishes a legal obligation for the government and public bodies to uphold the human rights of everybody living in the UK, so that they are treated with respect and dignity.

The historical and policy context are intertwined. The consultation document explains that the nature and approach of the Strasbourg Court has evolved over the years, as has the Court’s relationship with Council of Europe member States, including the UK.

The Council of Europe

  • The Council of Europe was established by the Treaty of London in 1949 and is based in Strasbourg in France. Originally made up of ten member States, it now has 47 members stretching from Iceland to Azerbaijan. It has adopted a number of human rights treaties, most notably the Convention.
  • The Convention largely contains civil and political rights. In most cases, these reflect rights which have long been protected in domestic UK law in a variety of ways.
    Additional rights have been added over the years which are contained in protocols that are optional for States already party to the Convention.
  • In 1959 the Council of Europe established the European Court of Human Rights to determine alleged violations of the rights set out in the Convention by the 47 Council of Europe member States that have now ratified the Convention.

Further historical context is provided explaining the different approaches to Human Rights have been put forward in the consultation document:

“Karl Marx presented a critique of the Rights of Man proclaimed during the French Revolution in his 1843 article On the Jewish Question. Marx was amongst the early critics of the liberal tradition of civil and political rights, like the right to free speech, a fair trial, freedom of worship and habeas corpus, reflecting what Isaiah Berlin defined as ‘negative liberty’. In the 20th century, amidst the struggle of the Cold War, a movement grounded in the communist, socialist and social democratic traditions began to push for recognition of economic, social and cultural rights, including specific rights to education, healthcare and housing. This culminated in the United Nations’ International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), opened for signature in 1966. As well as being conceptually different from civil liberties, the rights were defined as aspirational goals to be progressively realised. Many Western governments thought that, whilst noble aims, they reflected fluid and diverse public policy considerations with far-reaching financial implications, requiring collective decision-making through democratic institutions, rather than being individual rights, judicially enforceable through the courts.
Responding to both the American struggle for independence and later the French Revolution, Edmund Burke provided an alternative critique of liberal rights grounded in conservative thinking. Burke warned of the risks of extreme liberalism, and the weakness in the capacity of unfettered individual freedom to deliver personal or social well-being.”

However, academics have argued that Karl Marx later in life continued to support rights of political participation, including universal suffrage. His defence of the Paris Commune shows that he valued democratic participation not only as giving power to the working-masses but, for example, as a way of ensuring that the branches of state act in the general interests of society rather than in the interests of class, bureaucracy, or heads of state.

UK civil society organisations statement in full: Human Rights Act Review

“We all want to live in an equal, just and fair society, where governments and public bodies respect, protect and fulfil our human rights. The Human Rights Act, along with other legal processes, gives people the ability to hold governments and public bodies to account when they fail to uphold our rights. It allows ordinary people to stand up to those in power and demand that their rights are respected.

The Human Rights Act is an essential tool that allows the courts to find the right balance between individuals’ different rights and between individual rights and the collective rights of society.

Being able to challenge governments and other public bodies and hold them to account is at the heart of our democracy. We all deserve effective access to justice and a fair hearing.

This is a deeply disappointing report, and one which seems to bear little relationship to the weight of the evidence submitted to it, that overwhelmingly demonstrated that changes to the Human Rights Act are both unnecessary and damaging.

Human rights are the essential tools that empower us to stand up to people in power, and to create a stronger, fairer, more compassionate UK.

The Human Rights Act is a sensible and transparent balance between the roles of the government, of Parliament, of public bodies, of the courts and for all of us who use human rights every day to ensure we are treated with dignity and respect. It’s the bedrock of a fair and free society, but it is delicately balanced. Even tiny changes to this framework undermine the basis of our rights and freedoms, placing them at the mercy of fate not fairness.

We agree this is time for change, but that change should be an end to the relentless attacks on the Human Rights Act. Now that this latest review has concluded, it is time for the government to acknowledge that our human rights are the hidden foundations that help us all live together freely and fairly, a safety net to protect us all.

We call on the UK Government to reject these unnecessary proposals, that would dangerously weaken the protection of our rights. Instead, it should commit to:

1. Maintain the balanced and effective framework for securing our human rights, as set out in the Human Rights Act.
2. Proactively raise awareness of our human rights and support a public dialogue on how they can be fully realised that is grounded in fairness, equality and justice, recognising that human rights are at the heart of how we treat one another and live our lives.
3. Deliver the long overdue Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.
4. Consider how the models of incorporating additional rights being developed in Wales and Scotland, such as the rights of the child and economic, social and cultural rights, could be applied to the UK as a whole.”

Cllr Alan Hall

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