openDemocracyUK

Where do the parties stand on the Human Rights Act?

Katie Ghose
14 April 2010

The party manifestos have been published. Here are the relevant extracts on the Human Rights Act along with the British Institute of Human Right's response: 

Labour says:  “We are proud to have brought in the Human Rights Act, enabling British citizens to take action in British courts rather than having to wait years to seek redress in Strasbourg. We will not repeal or resile from it”

It promises an All-Party Commission to Chart a course to a written constitution. There is no specific reference to a Bill of Rights (and/or Responsibilities).

Additional information about civil liberties is here :

The Conservatives say:  'To protect our freedoms from state encroachment and encourage greater social responsibility, we will replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights'   

The Liberal Democrats say: 'Ensure that everyone has the same protections under the law by protecting the Human Rights Act' They commit to a written constitution, to be achieved via a citizens' convention.

 What  do the manifestos mean for the Human Rights Act?  

That the Conservatives want to go down the road of repealing the HRA , without explaining why or showing any desire to add to our protections. It misrepresents the HRA which is a 'living Bill of Rights' and already provides a powerful check against state intrusions and prompts people to think of others' rights as well as their own. They do not explain how scrapping the Act would help to scale back the 'database state' or with improve civil liberties.   

Where are the gaps? 

When the HRA was introduced Jack Straw spoke of its protection for the weak 'against the overweening power of the state'. But none of the main parties recognize the role that human rights and the Act play in the proposals for transferring 'power to the people' (eg Conservative) or introducing public service rights and guarantees (eg Labour).  Although the Liberal Democrats, in proposing a citizens convention to create a written constitution suggest that human rights could be the subject of a genuinely open and substantial public debate.

“Voice”, “choice” and “accountability” are key themes within  Labour's manifesto  and for the Conservatives, restoring 'power to the people' is dominant. Labour promises a series of public service rights and guarantees for the individual citizen with forms of legal redress when public bodies fail. These include cancer diagnosis within a week and parents’ right to vote for a change in school leadership. However the manifesto does not link public service reform with human rights and the way the HRA was designed as a tool to develop services, drive up standards and provide accountability .  And whilst the Conservatives' manifesto is warm on the importance of human rights in foreign affairs, it says nothing about their empowering potential for people here in the UK. See, for example, Francesca Klug's piece in Comment is Free on why the Lib Dems have rejected a new bill of rights

Taking action

Now that we know where the parties stand, please do continue to speak up - privately and publicly - for the Human Rights Act whenever you can. And visit and contribute to BIHR's ourhumanrightsstories.com for the untold story on human rights.

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