His­to­ryshows why­we­need aHu­man Rights Act

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - POL­I­TICS DO­MINIC GRIEVE

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

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