Human rights in the headlines - 20 February 2015

Posted by Mairi Clare Rodgers on 20 February 2015

Principles can be tricky things, can’t they? We all have values we think are terribly important - until we have to act on them.  Perhaps speaking up would cost us a seat on the train, a friendship or even our job – and if we’re honest whatever the price is, it’s often a bit too high.  

Peter Oborne

This week, former chief political commentator for the Telegraph, Peter Oborne made public his resignation, claiming the paper had deliberately supressed stories about HSBC in order to safeguard its valuable advertising account.  

A few years back, Peter and Jesse Norman MP wrote a book for us called ‘Churchill’s Legacy – The Conservative Case for the Human Rights Act’.  Out of step with current Conservative thinking on the HRA, this pamphlet has become one of the most important contributions to Liberty’s Common Values campaign.  We have never had any doubt about Peter’s integrity, values and grit.

And in a seamless segue, on Wednesday it was reported that for the past five years the intelligence agencies have been ignoring the vital legal principle of lawyer-client confidentiality.

Legally-privileged communications

A very recent judgment made by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal – now the most well-known secretive tribunal in the land – ruled that safeguards applied by agencies must be made "sufficiently public" in order to satisfy requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights.  

Unfortunately for the Government, this meant they had to concede that some other policies might not comply with our human rights laws.  Like eavesdropping on legally privileged conversations.  No big deal guys – it’s only one of the cornerstones of a fair trial.

In the next couple of weeks both the Modern Slavery and Armed Forces Bills will enter the final part of their journey through Parliament.  

Back in Parliament

On Wednesday 25th February, the House of Lords will likely vote on a change to the Modern Slavery Bill that would again allow vulnerable domestic workers to escape abusive employers.  

Before 2012, visas issued for domestic workers allowed them to change their employer once in the UK – enabling them to escape situations of abuse.  However since then new Government visa rules have tied workers to potentially abusive employers.  

Evidence from migrant domestic workers’ charity Kalayaan shows that the number of domestic workers reporting physical abuse has doubled and many other types of mistreatment have increased since the change.  The Government thinks this isn’t quite “persuasive” enough and has promised only to hold a review instead….which will find out what we already know right now – except at some point in the future.  Seems legit.

As we mentioned last week a Commons Committee has voted to change the Armed Forces Bill so that the new Service Complaints Ombudsman will have the power to investigate the substance of a complaint.  However the Government opposes the changes and when it returns to the Commons in the next couple of weeks, we expect there to be a concerted effort to reverse this important amendment.

The good news is that we have made it easy for you to act on your principles (no need to thank us). Email your MP on the Armed Forces Bill, sign the Help End Modern Slavery petition and tell everyone you know to do the same.  

Doing the right thing doesn’t always have to be hard.

Campaign reference: 

Modern Slavery