We should all share pride in our Human Rights Act

Broadway Ham and High, 23.10.14

In those heady days after 1997, Labour put into action many of the policies devised in opposition. We started to improve the NHS (do you remember how people used to die on the waiting list for a heart op?). We brought in the minimum wage. We set up Sure Start centres for young children and Connexions for older ones. And we brought human rights home by passing the Human Rights Act. 

The European Convention on Human Rights was not devised by foreigners in a far-off land. The UK was fully involved in its development and a Conservative MP, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, oversaw the drafting.

We signed the Convention more than 60 years ago. But asserting your rights by going to the European Court of Human Rights could be a cumbersome process, with cases at home backed up and waiting for the decision. So, in consultation with lawyers and judges, Labour passed the Human Rights Act.

We all benefit from the Human Rights Act. The Countryside Alliance used it to challenge

the ban on fox hunting. Elderly couples can no longer be separated by care homes – that used to be common practice.

Human rights have been used to protect our privacy; to confirm that we cannot be tried and convicted without knowing the evidence against us; to stop innocent people from having their DNA stored indefinitely; to prevent discrimination.

This Tory/Lib-Dem government has not been good at protecting civil liberties: from cuts to civil legal aid, changes to judicial review and the ‘gagging act’, we have gone backwards on a number of fronts.

And now the Tories are promising to repeal the Human Rights Act and to pull out of the Convention if they stay in government next year.

We should be proud of our Human Rights Act. It is the mark of a civilised democracy. Of course, some decisions might not be popular. Some decisions might criticise the government of the day. But that’s really the point.

We all benefit when government is more accountable, when we are all recognised as being equal and possessing inherent human rights

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Catherine West MP

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