Historyshows whyweneed aHuman Rights Act
THE GOVERNMENT will shortly announce a public consultation on its plans to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. This may seem like dry semantics, of interest only to legal and constitutional techies, but nothing could be further from the truth.
What is proposed has profound implications both for the UK and for human rights worldwide. This is an issue in which the Jewish community has a particular stake and I would encourage readers to participate in the consultation. Your voice matters.
A Jewish response to the government’s proposals will have particular resonance. Why? Because the Human Rights Act is a legacy of the Holocaust.
International human-rights law developed in response to the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis; a practical expression of the necessity to ensure that tyrannical nations would never again be allowed to oppress their own citizens.
The United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 but many, including the British Conservative lawyerpolitician David Maxwell-Fyfe felt that the UN document did not go far enough. Maxwell-Fyfe had been deeply shaken by his experience as a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials — he successfully pushed for a European treaty, which, crucially, included a mechanism for adjudicating human-rights claims and providing redress for victims. Hence the European Convention on Human Rights, and its associated European Court in Strasbourg, were born with a strong lineage dating back through the English Common Law to the 1689 Bill of Rights and Magna Carta.
The final link in the chain came in 1998, when the Human Rights Act incorporated the European Convention into UK law. The Act, in the parlance of the time, ‘‘brought rights home’’. No longer would litigants have to face the time and expense of pursuing claims through the Strasbourg court. For the first time, UK courts would adjudicate cases with reference to Convention rights.
A further, little-known benefit of the Act was that all public authorities underwent an extensive appraisal of their policies and procedures to ensure they were compatible with the Convention. This has undoubtedly led to a greatly more ‘‘human-rights friendly’’ public sector in the UK.
So why has the Act so fallen out of favour that the government wants to repeal it? The Act has been the victim of mischievous tabloid myth-making over the years. Alongside these myths, a more serious charge levelled at the Act is that it undermines the sovereignty of par-
We must admit that the best solution is always dialogue