Defending our Human Rights Act

My June 2015 article for the Ham & High on why we must defend our precious human rights from this Government's attack.  

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The news that the Government is delaying plans to scrap the Human Rights Act is welcome.  However the fight is not over.  David Cameron remains committed to repealing the Act and it's only fear that he won't get his plans through Parliament that has caused this pause.  We must use this time to maintain the pressure and raise awareness of how dangerous this backward step would be.  

The UK's Human Rights Act and our position as a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights, has given us a voice to demand change of those who have weaker human rights records.  The mark of a civilised democracy is how we protect our people and treat all with fairness, dignity and respect.  

Our basic human rights to life, liberty, a fair trial, protection from torture were not devised by foreigners in a far-off land.  After the atrocities of WWII, countries united to say never again and enshrine rights, freedoms and protection from the state.  The Conservative MP, Sir David Maxwell-Fyle, oversaw the drafting of the European Convention 65 years ago and in 1998 a Labour Government, with cross-party support, passed the Human Rights Act.  This meant that people no longer had to go to Strasbourg to argue their case, but instead UK courts with UK judges could rule on human rights claims.   

The Tories' attempts to forget this history, scrap the Human Rights Act and potentially pull out of the European Convention of Human Rights is damaging both for our country and for our international reputation.  

Of course courts are sometimes going to make decisions that are unpopular or that go against the government of the day.  But that's the point.  Governments can't be above challenge.

In recent years, cases brought under the Human Rights Act have helped victims of trafficking, women subject to domestic violence and children whose parents are facing deportation.  Human rights have been used to stop innocent people having their DNA stored indefinitely, protect our privacy and confirm that we can't be tried and convicted without knowing the evidence against us.  

The Tories have said they want human rights laws limited to the most serious cases, but is that for a government to define?  I fear the motives of a government that has shown little interest in civil liberties and has already made access to justice more difficult with cuts to legal aid, changes to judicial review and the gagging act.  At the same time they're using their wafer-thin majority to dust down the Snooper's Charter that will add to the already vast powers of surveillance available to our intelligence services.  

As your MP, I will defend human rights and civil liberties against this Government's attack.  For me, a vital part of the Labour Party's mission is to tackle inequalities of power, hold vested interests to account and stand up for the most vulnerable.  We all benefit when government is more accountable, and when we are all recognised as being equal and possessing inherent human rights.  

Let us keep up the fight over the coming months.  As we promote human rights internationally we must uphold them here.

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Catherine West MP

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