photo: counterfire.org – King John signing the Magna Carta
The UK government is looking to reform human rights legislation after our divorce from the EU. They want to replace the Human Rights Act with a modern Bill of Rights, “one which reinforces our freedoms under the rule of law, but also provides a clearer demarcation of the separation of powers between the courts and Parliament”.
In December they produced a document – a consultation to reform the Human Rights Act 1998. I am all for reform if it is done for the right reasons and in the right way, but there are some worrying parts of the document which I will go through below. All emphasis is my own.
On page 35 it discusses “a ‘rights culture’ that displaces personal responsibility and the public interest”. It says “the international human rights framework recognizes that not all rights are absolute and that an individual’s rights may need to be balanced, either against the rights of others or against the wider public interest. Many of the rights in the Convention are ‘qualified’, recognizing explicitly the need to respect the rights of others and the broader needs of society”.
I’m sure we all agree that we should respect other people’s rights and consider the broader needs of society. However, these considerations should not trump an individual’s rights which should remain fundamental in a free society. Any talk of changing laws or removing individuals’ rights for the greater good, public interest or the needs of society, has never resulted in good outcomes.
The document continues. “The idea that rights come alongside duties and responsibilities is steeped in the UK tradition of liberty, but is also reflected in the qualifications in the Convention and is explicit in Article 29 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (‘Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible’). The increasing reliance on human rights claims over the years has, however, led to a culture of rights decoupled from our responsibilities as citizens, and a displacement of due consideration of the wider public interest”.
It goes on to describe examples of prisoners using human rights laws to challenge decisions when they “themselves showed a flagrant disregard for the rights of other”.
We’re not in the school playground but obviously, the childhood lesson hasn’t been learnt – two wrongs don’t make a right! So, if someone is to show disregard to the rights of others, they are not allowed to have human rights themselves?
For each case it describes, it mentions the mediocre (in the scheme of things) legal fees that the government has to pay, even when the claimant loses the case. The government has just written off £4.3 billion in Covid loans to fraudsters so I’m sure they have a spare few million to ensure everybody’s (whether they are criminals or not) human rights are adhered to.
The section concludes “Whilst human rights are universal, a Bill of Rights could require the courts to give greater consideration to the behaviour of claimants and the wider public interest when interpreting and balancing qualified rights. More broadly, our proposals can also set out more clearly the extent to which the behaviour of claimants is a factor that the courts take into account when deciding what sort of remedy if any, is appropriate. This will ensure that claimants’ responsibilities, and the rights of others, form a part of the process of making a claim based on the violation of a human right”.
So whilst human rights are universal….they’re not really if the courts think you have been a really naughty boy and not thought about others. Fine, prosecute somebody if they have done something illegal whilst not thinking about others, but don’t use their behaviour as a reason to remove their human rights.
Now you may think, that’s not so bad, these are probably violent criminals we’re talking about here. That may be the case but firstly, everyone deserves human rights and secondly, it might start with violent criminals but then who next? With the media and politicians constantly calling the unvaccinated ‘selfish’ and that they should get vaccinated to protect others and for the greater good, it is entirely feasible that your human rights will be denied if you are unvaccinated. You are acting against the public interest and therefore those rights need to be balanced against yours.
On page 79 it looks at which rights are ‘qualified’ and so “can be balanced with the rights of others and the needs of society in general. These rights include the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8); freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 9); freedom of expression (Article 10); and freedom of assembly and association (Article 11)”.
It continues “We want decisions regarding human rights to be taken in a fair and balanced way, which consider the needs of the individual who has claimed that their rights have been infringed but also ensures due consideration of the rights of others and the diverse interests of society as a whole”.
Furthermore, “there are other rights in the Convention, known as ‘limited’ rights, which can be subject to restrictions, such as the right to liberty and security (Article 5) and the right to a fair trial (Article 6). In general, in the area of qualified and limited rights, the government believes that whilst the courts are required to determine the application of rights to the particular facts of any case, where Parliament has expressed its clear will on complex and diverse issues relating to the public interest, this should be respected”.
All chilling stuff. So if Parliament decides mandatory vaccinations (a complex and diverse issue) is in the public interest and someone is unvaccinated, then they can lose their rights, including liberty and a fair trial? Furthermore, the courts can’t even have a say in whether the removal of those rights is appropriate or not.
Responses can be submitted by 8 March and I recommend any legal practitioners, experts and academics in human rights law, human rights advocates and anyone interested in human rights to do so. If the proposed changes are enacted we are going down a slippery slope.