Human Rights Act, ECHR and Government accountability / Protest rights

It’s our birthday, and after 88 years here’s why our fight for human rights has never been more needed

Posted by Martha Spurrier – Director of Liberty on 22 Feb 2022

Liberty turns 88 today. With human rights and civil liberties under threat, our work has never been more urgent.

On this day in 1934, Liberty was founded to defend “the whole spirit of British freedom” after police cracked down on protesters on a National Hunger March, leaving many seriously injured.

In the aftermath, a protester called Ronald Kidd set about establishing the Council for Civil Liberties – to ensure the next Hunger March was peaceful and safe, so everyone could stand up for their rights.

Nearly 90 years later, these aims have never been more important.

It’s clear that our rights are currently under attack – in the courts, in Parliament, in society and in the streets, this Government is shutting down our ability to hold them to account.

Woman being led away by police officers
Liberty was set up in 1934 to protect protest rights. We’ve been defending freedoms and challenging injustice ever since. Whether tackling the hostile environment, mass surveillance or protest rights, Liberty campaigns to make sure everyone in the UK is treated fairly.

In the courts

This week, for example, a Bill is going through Parliament which aims to weaken a vital process called ‘judicial review.’

Judicial review is a crucial tool which gives us all the power to challenge governments and public bodies in court if they get it wrong – for instance, it’s thanks to judicial review that the Ministry of Defence now owes soldiers a duty of care no matter where in the world they are stationed. It’s thanks to judicial review that all couples can enter civil partnerships.

But the Government’s new Bill threatens this system, and if passed will make it harder for people to stand up to power.

The Government is also currently consulting on proposals to overhaul the Human Rights Act – proposals which should worry us all.

The Human Rights Act gives us vital protection, ensuring that governments and public bodies act within the law and respect everyone’s fundamental rights.

It’s due to the Human Rights Act, for example, that no family of a sick and disabled child loses their benefits no matter how long they have to stay in hospital.

Liberty has for years seen off threats to the Act and we are right now pushing back on the Justice Secretary’s plans to fatally weaken the protections it gives us.

Boris Johnson and Priti Patel watch Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid deliver his Conference speech.
In the courts, in Parliament, in society and in the streets, this Government is shutting down our ability to hold them to account

In Parliament

In Parliament, meanwhile, this Government is dodging scrutiny by making laws through ‘secondary legislation’ which doesn’t get examined by Parliamentarians to the same level that an Act of Parliament does.

During the pandemic, the Government frequently made drastic changes to our rights and freedoms with barely a moment’s notice – and with next to no oversight from Members of Parliament.

That means that our elected representatives – whose job is to give voters a voice in Parliament – are being sidelined, weakening our ability to make our voices heard.

Liberty is highlighting Government attempts to avoid accountability and making sure people know about the legislation ministers are trying to silently pass.

In society

Our voice in parliament is being further threatened by the Government’s plans to introduce voter ID for elections – a move which would stop millions of people from being able to vote in elections, particularly those from already marginalised groups.

Incidence of voter fraud in the UK is vanishingly small – and yet the Government is prepared to spend £120 million on this measure which will serve only to limit people’s access to the ballot box.

The Government are also cutting off the public’s access to information, with a secret ‘clearing house’ for Freedom of Information Requests which screens hundreds of requests from journalists and campaigning organisations before refusing to release information to them.

With Freedom of Information Request responses lower than ever before, it’s clear that the Government is intent on limiting people’s access to information and preventing us from scrutinising them.

Liberty has been repeatedly calling out the Government’s hypocrisy on free speech and has joined campaigners in fighting against voter ID measures.

Dominic Raab, Secretary of State
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has promised to 'overhaul' the Human Rights Act – proposals which should worry us all.

On the streets

When our rights are under threat and our leaders are not acting in our best interests, protest is a fundamental way for us to make our voices heard.

But this Government is coming after our right to protest too.

The Policing Bill currently going through Parliament would give police more powers to decide which protests can go ahead, why and for how long; create a buffer zone around Parliament; and make causing ‘serious annoyance’ punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Protest is not a gift from the state, but a fundamental right – and yet, nearly 90 years since protesters on the National Hunger March were subject to violence at the hands of the police, our right to make our voices heard in the streets is once again under attack.

A few weeks ago, Liberty secured a series of crushing Government defeats in the House of Lords, with Peers voting 14 times to block some of the worst aspects of the Policing Bill.

Stand up to power

For nearly 90 years Liberty has stood firm in defence of human rights and civil liberties. Today that fight is more important than ever.

Those currently in power are trying to rewrite the rules so that only they can ever win. We won’t let them.

By standing together with grassroot groups and our friends across civil society , we continue to prevent such outrageous abuse of power as well as challenging intolerance and discrimination wherever we see it.

But we need your voice too, now more than ever – and there is a great deal you can do.

You can join Liberty, campaign with us, and support grassroots organisations that stand up to power every day.

Together we can pushback against these attacks on our rights and ensure that everyone is able to challenge those who seek to abuse their power.

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