We’ve already got a Bill of Rights – the HRA – defend it!

Posted by Bella Sankey on 05 August 2011

Back in March, the Prime Minister set up a Bill of Rights Commission to investigate the possibility of creating a 'UK Bill of Rights'. Today the Commission embarked upon its first step of public consultation, launching a discussion paper asking people “Do we need a UK Bill of Rights?”

Uhm, we might be missing something here, but haven’t we already got a modern day Bill of Rights in this country? Yes, yes we have; it’s called the Human Rights Act.

The HRA incorporates the post-WW2 Convention on Human Rights into UK law. It is universal; simultaneously English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, European and so on. Ad it preserves parliamentary sovereignty while protecting the rights of every human being in this country or under UK control.

According to the Commission’s remit, it will explore a new UK Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds upon Britain’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and ensures these continue to be enshrined in UK law. Yet this does not sit easily with the 2010 Tory Manifesto commitment to scrap the HRA and attacks on the Act (and the judges interpreting its values) while in office. 

For these reasons, we mustn’t be fooled into thinking this is some kind of great opportunity. Those out to replace the HRA - including a number of members on the Commission - have been clear that they want to dilute the vital protections this legislation currently offers. This would mean less protection for the vulnerable against rich and powerful interests – political, media, corporate and so on.

As for the argument that we need to make rights more ‘British’– we’ve all seen how weak rights contingent on citizenship can be. They are all too easily taken away, as the experience of British detainees at Guantanamo Bay sadly shows. We have to choose between being foreigners somewhere or human beings everywhere.

If this Commission introduces some much-needed common sense into a debate polluted with myth and spin, it may be of some value. There has after all been scarce public education about the Human Rights Act and what it does and does not do. But as the Commission embarks on its curious task, it’s vital that anyone who believes in fundamental rights and freedoms and checks on the abuses of power has their say. Otherwise there is every chance that those who believe in their own rights, but not the rights of others, will win out.

Please explore our website and find out more about the HRA here and debunk some of the common myths surrounding it here. Then head to the Commission website here and tell them all about it. Let them know we’ve already got a UK Bill of Rights – and it’s called the Human Rights Act.

The deadline for your responses is 11 November, 2011, so get writing soon!