Will either major party protect human rights after the Election?

6 May 2015 by

98845b6d-ba86-4e3b-9138-9bff8340a613-620x372“Our aim is a straightforward one”,  New Labour Party told us in October 1997 “[it is] to bring those rights home”. In 2000, the Human Rights Act came into force. For the first time, people in the UK had human rights which could be enforced in UK courts. The right to life, the right not to be tortured, to free speech. What was not to love?

If only it was that simple. 1997 seems a very long time ago. Now, in the final few hours before the 2015 Election, we see the major parties fundamentally divided on human rights.I haven’t written about the Election and human rights yet, mainly because I have been setting up a wonderful new human rights website, rightsinfo.org (more on that later).

Another reason is that although human rights reform is a real issued between the parties, it has featured little in the campaign. Maybe people are more bothered about the economy, immigration and housing. This has been a relief, as whenever the human rights debate show rolls into town it is inevitably accompanied by ill-informed criticism and the stoking of overblown fears, largely based on myths.

It is no secret that the major parties are poles apart on human rights. Labour basically wants to maintain the status quo. They will keep the Human Rights Act and seek reform of the European Court of Human Rights.

The Tories want to tear down the existing framework and start afresh with a British Bill of Rights, and also do something about the European Court of Human Rights. The policy is vague. They promised a draft bill of rights earlier in the year but it never materialised, so we have been left guessing as to what it all means for human rights.

For example, the manifesto promises to “break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights”. What does that mean? We lawyers have been trying to decode this, as it isn’t clear whether the manifesto is a step away from the Tories’ October 2014 policy document which promised to make European Court of Human Rights judgments “advisory” rather than binding on the UK. Cambridge University’s Dr Mark Elliott has followed the issue closely and talks a lot of sense here.

So if you think protecting people’s human rights in law a good thing, who should you vote for? There is a certain attraction in the Conservative plans. A British Bill of Rights. Redrawing the European Convention rights in our own image. A chance to enshrine the right to trial by jury, or freedom of the press. Practically every other European state does it. Why not us?

When you put it like that… but no. Let me explain why. In a different political reality, a bill of rights for the UK might be a great idea. It could bring the public into a project which has since 1997, rightly or wrongly, been seen as an elitist one, drawn up by lawyers and politicos, not the people who are meant to be benefiting from those rights.

But that isn’t that reality. The Conservative plan for a bill of rights, as vague as it is, is not about building the large tent you would need to construct a modern, inclusive bill of rights. It is about protecting the narrow interests of party supporters.

You only need to read the press release, since buried, which came with the original proposal. It talks about taking rights away from travellers, victims of abuse by the British military, illegal immigrants. Human rights are universal, they apply to everyone. The whole point is that minorities and unpopular groups are shielded from the random attacks of populism. The focus of the Conservative policy, or at least the small group behind it, is reducing rights, not reforming them. Others have written beautifully about the fundamental danger in this approach – see, from the left, Nick Cohen, or, from the right, Lord Finkelstein.

And many Tories are obsessed with shrinking away from Europe. You probably knew that. But it applies to human rights policy too. Helena Kennedy and Philippe Sands raised the alarm in 2013 after they had sat on the now forgotten Bill of Rights Commission. In a superb London Review of Books article, they raised the alarm that the true motive of their Tory colleagues for reforming human rights was leaving the European Convention on Human Rights and fundamentally reducing the reach of rights protections against the state.

Where does this leave us, as we enter the ballot booths? I am voting Labour. I think it is an obvious choice for anyone who wants to ensue that existing human rights protections are not taken away, particularly from unpopular groups. I also don’t want to see human rights become a political football, altered every five or 10 years to fit the narrow ideology of the politicians in charge.

But Labour’s approach has its dangers too. There seems to be a bubbling dissatisfaction over human rights in the UK. For whatever reason, the public remains unenthusiastic. Lawyers and activists scratch their heads. How could people not want their basic rights protected against the state? Perhaps it is because the rights were imposed from above rather than growing from below. Who knows.

This brings me back to RightsInfo, a new website I just launched. I think it is time for the human rights debate to be rebooted. We need to start from the beginning, to convince people that human rights matter, that they are fundamentally British, that they have done amazing things for people who aren’t criminals or terrorists, that much of what we are told by the press is based on myths, not facts. I hope it works. Because time is running out if we want to truly bring human rights home.


  1. markpummell says:

    a great and timely piece Adam; thank you as always… am sure if Cameron had his way he would overturn Bushel/l’s case!!!

  2. The HRA is terminally flawed anyway, by its omission of Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) which omission consigns British citizens (subjects?) to the untrammelled vagaries of local justice. I am unable to equate this with the effect of the Treaty of Lisbon 2009 which elevated such subjects to citizenship of the EU and the rights conferred thereby.

  3. Anne says:

    “Will either major party protect human rights after the Election?” If they cannot protect our Country from being GOVERNED by foreigners they are not worth voting for.

    We have our own Bill of Rights and we have the GREAT Magna Carta, and you seem to forget that so many, so very many gave their lives in that last World War -young and old, in the saving of them all, so that this present and future Generations could have the benefit of using them.

  4. Ted Jusant says:

    “The Republic of Kenya is a republic that worships God. We have no room for gays and those others,” Ruto told a Nairobi church congregation in the national Swahili language, according to an online video posted by Kenyan broadcaster KTN.
    Is this an Human Rights issue?

  5. John says:

    If you want to know what people really think about human rights and their protection you need to cite actual opinion poll statistics on the matter.
    I suspect the reason human rights have not featured heavily in the current election campaign is because they do not have a high priority in the minds of the vast majority of the electorate.
    I appreciate you consider human rights to be hugely important – it is what you do and it can probably be said it is what you live for – but not everyone is the same, and it is an absolute certainty that the vast majority of people here in the UK do not feel the same way as you do.
    The negative perceptions surrounding human rights are definitely linked to the right wing of the political class and their like-minded media supporters.
    Between them, they spew out often misguided and misleading anti-rights propaganda, and this explains why public perception on this matter is so skewed.
    A similar situation occurs with regard to the right-wing media trying to cultivate Christian “victimhood” in this country, almost always involving losses at the ECHR and similar bodies.
    Look at what has just happened in France with regard to state surveillance – at a time when the US is showing concerns over the excessive powers of surveillance of the NSA.
    I think these considerations take time to play out but ultimately the people will defend their rights if they have something to get behind which is so obviously wrong that they must.
    Just think about how far we have come since the 1950s…….

Comments are closed.

Welcome to the UKHRB

This blog is run by 1 Crown Office Row barristers' chambers. Subscribe for free updates here. The blog's editorial team is:
Commissioning Editor: Jonathan Metzer
Editorial Team: Rosalind English
Angus McCullough QC David Hart QC
Martin Downs
Jim Duffy

Free email updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog for free and receive weekly notifications of new posts by email.




7/7 Bombings 9/11 A1P1 Aarhus Abortion Abu Qatada Abuse Access to justice adoption AI air pollution air travel ALBA Allergy Al Qaeda Amnesty International animal rights Animals anonymity Article 1 Protocol 1 Article 2 article 3 Article 4 article 5 Article 6 Article 8 Article 9 article 10 Article 11 article 13 Article 14 article 263 TFEU Artificial Intelligence Asbestos Assange assisted suicide asylum asylum seekers Australia autism badgers benefits Bill of Rights biotechnology birds directive blogging Bloody Sunday brexit Bribery British Waterways Board Catholic Church Catholicism Chagos Islanders Charter of Fundamental Rights child protection Children children's rights China christianity circumcision citizenship civil liberties campaigners civil partnerships climate change clinical negligence closed material procedure Coercion Cologne Commission on a Bill of Rights common buzzard common law communications competition confidentiality confiscation order conscientious objection consent conservation constitution contact order contempt of court Control orders Copyright coronavirus costs costs budgets Court of Protection crime criminal law Criminal Legal Aid criminal records Cybersecurity Damages data protection death penalty declaration of incompatibility defamation DEFRA Democracy village deportation deprivation of liberty derogations Detention devolution Dignitas dignity Dignity in Dying diplomacy director of public prosecutions disability Disability-related harassment disciplinary hearing disclosure Discrimination Discrimination law disease divorce DNA doctors does it matter? domestic violence Dominic Grieve don't ask don't ask don't tell don't tell Doogan and Wood double conviction DPP guidelines drones duty of care ECHR economic and social rights economic loss ECtHR Education election Employment Environment environmental information Equality Act Equality Act 2010 ethics Ethiopia EU EU Charter of Fundamental Rights EU costs EU law European Convention on Human Rights European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice european disability forum European Sanctions Blog Eurozone euthanasia evidence Exclusion extra-jurisdictional reach of ECHR extra-territoriality extradition extradition act extradition procedures extradition review extraordinary rendition Facebook Facebook contempt facial recognition fair procedures Fair Trial faith courts fake news Family family courts family law family legal aid Family life fatal accidents act Fertility fertility treatment FGM fisheries fishing rights foreign criminals foreign office foreign policy France freedom of assembly Freedom of Association Freedom of Expression freedom of information Freedom of Information Act 2000 freedom of movement freedom of speech free speech game birds gangbo gang injunctions Garry Mann gary dobson Gary McFarlane gay discrimination Gay marriage gay rights gay soldiers Gaza Gaza conflict Gender General Dental Council General Election General Medical Council genetic discrimination genetic engineering genetic information genetics genetic testing Google government Grenfell grooming Gun Control gwyneth paltrow gypsies habitats habitats protection Halsbury's Law Exchange hammerton v uk happy new year harassment Hardeep Singh Haringey Council Harkins and Edwards Health healthcare health insurance Heathrow heist heightened scrutiny Henry VII Henry VIII herd immunity hereditary disorder High Court of Justiciary Hirst v UK HIV HJ Iran HM (Iraq) v The Secretary of state for the home department [2010] EWCA Civ 1322 Holder holkham beach holocaust homelessness Home Office Home Office v Tariq homeopathy hooding Hounslow v Powell House of Commons Housing housing benefits Howard League for Penal Reform how judges decide cases hra damages claim Hrant Dink HRLA HS2 hs2 challenge hts http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2011/04/11/us-state-department-reports-on-uk-human-rights/ Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority human genome human rights Human Rights Act Human Rights Act 1998 human rights advocacy Human rights and the UK constitution human rights commission human rights conventions human rights damages Human Rights Day human rights decisions Human Rights Information Project human rights news Human Rights Watch human right to education human trafficking hunting Huntington's Disease HXA hyper injunctions Igor Sutyagin illegality defence immigration Immigration/Extradition Immigration Act 2014 immigration appeals immigration detention immigration judge immigration rules immunity increase of sanction India Indonesia Infrastructure Planning Committee inherent jurisdiction inherited disease Inhuman and degrading treatment injunction Inquest Inquests insult insurance insurmountable obstacles intelligence services act intercept evidence interception interests of the child interim remedies international international conflict international criminal court international humanitarian law international human rights international human rights law international law international treaty obligations internet internet service providers internment internship inuit investigation investigative duty in vitro fertilisation Iran iranian bank sanctions Iranian nuclear program Iraq Iraqi asylum seeker Iraq War Ireland irrationality islam Israel Italy iTunes IVF ivory ban jackson reforms Janowiec and Others v Russia ( Japan Jason Smith Jeet Singh Jefferies Jeremy Corbyn jeremy hunt job Jogee John Hemming John Terry joint enterprise joint tenancy Jon Guant Joseph v Spiller journalism judaism judges Judges and Juries judging Judicial activism judicial brevity judicial deference judicial review Judicial Review reform judiciary Julian Assange jurisdiction jury trial JUSTICE Justice and Security Act Justice and Security Bill Justice and Security Green Paper Justice Human Rights Awards JUSTICE Human Rights Awards 2010 just satisfaction Katyn Massacre Kay v Lambeth Kay v UK Ken Clarke Ken Pease Kerry McCarthy Kettling Kings College Klimas koran burning Labour Lady Hale lansley NHS reforms LASPO Law Commission Law Pod UK Law Society Law Society of Scotland leave to enter leave to remain legal aid legal aid cuts Legal Aid desert Legal Aid Reforms legal blogs Legal Certainty legal naughty step Legal Ombudsman legal representation legitimate expectation let as a dwelling Leveson Inquiry Levi Bellfield lewisham hospital closure lgbtq liability Libel libel reform Liberal Democrat Conference Liberty libraries closure library closures Libya licence conditions licence to shoot life insurance life sentence life support limestone pavements limitation lisbon treaty Lithuania Litigation litvinenko live exports local authorities locked in syndrome london borough of merton London Legal Walk London Probation Trust Lord Bingham Lord Bingham of Cornhill Lord Blair Lord Goldsmith lord irvine Lord Judge speech Lord Kerr Lord Lester Lord Neuberger Lord Phillips Lord Rodger Lord Sumption Lord Taylor LSC tender luftur rahman machine learning MAGA Magna Carta mail on sunday Majority Verdict Malcolm Kennedy malice Margaret Thatcher Margin of Appreciation margin of discretion Maria Gallastegui marriage material support maternity pay Matthew Woods Mattu v The University Hospitals of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust [2011] EWHC 2068 (QB) Maya the Cat Mba v London Borough Of Merton McKenzie friend Media and Censorship Medical medical liability medical negligence medical qualifications medical records medicine mental capacity Mental Capacity Act Mental Capacity Act 2005 Mental Health mental health act mental health advocacy mental health awareness Mental Health Courts Mental illness merits review MGN v UK michael gove Midwives migrant crisis Milly Dowler Ministerial Code Ministry of Justice Ministry of Justice cuts misfeasance in public office modern slavery morality morocco mortuaries motherhood Motor Neurone disease Moulton Mousa MP expenses Mr Gul Mr Justice Eady MS (Palestinian Territories) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department murder murder reform Musician's Union Muslim NADA v. SWITZERLAND - 10593/08 - HEJUD [2012] ECHR 1691 naked rambler Naomi Campbell nationality National Pro Bono Week national security Natural England nature conservation naturism Nazi negligence Neuberger neuroscience Newcastle university news News of the World new Supreme Court President NHS NHS Risk Register Nick Clegg Nicklinson Niqaab Noise Regulations 2005 Northern Ireland nuclear challenges nuisance nursing nursing home Obituary Occupy London offensive jokes Offensive Speech offensive t shirt oil spill olympics open justice oppress OPQ v BJM orchestra Osama Bin Laden Oxford University paramountcy principle parental rights parenthood parking spaces parliamentary expenses parliamentary expenses scandal Parliamentary sovereignty Parliament square parole board passive smoking pastor Terry Jones patents Pathway Students Patrick Quinn murder Pensions persecution personal data Personal Injury personality rights perversity Peter and Hazelmary Bull PF and EF v UK Phil Woolas phone hacking phone taps physical and mental disabilities physician assisted death Pinnock Piracy Plagiarism planning planning human rights planning system plebgate POCA podcast points Poland Police police investigations police liability police misconduct police powers police surveillance Policy Exchange report political judges Politics Politics/Public Order poor reporting Pope Pope's visit Pope Benedict portal possession proceedings power of attorney PoW letters to ministers pre-nup pre-nuptial Pre-trial detention predator control pregnancy press press briefing press freedom Prince Charles prince of wales princess caroline of monaco principle of subsidiarity prior restraint prison Prisoners prisoners rights prisoners voting prisoner vote prisoner votes prisoner voting prison numbers Prisons prison vote privacy privacy injunction privacy law through the front door Private life private nuisance private use proceeds of crime Professional Discipline Property proportionality prosecution Protection of Freedoms Act Protection of Freedoms Bill Protest protest camp protest rights Protocol 15 psychiatric hospitals Public/Private public access publication public authorities Public Bodies Bill public inquiries public interest public interest environmental litigation public interest immunity Public Order Public Sector Equality Duty putting the past behind quango quantum quarantine Queen's Speech queer in the 21st century R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department & Ors [2011] EWCA Civ 895 R (on the application of) v The General Medical Council [2013] EWHC 2839 (Admin) R (on the application of EH) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2012] EWHC 2569 (Admin) R (on the application of G) v The Governors of X School Rabone and another v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust [2012] UKSC 2 race relations Rachel Corrie Radmacher Raed Salah Mahajna Raed Saleh Ramsgate raptors rehabilitation Reith Lectures Religion resuscitation RightsInfo right to die right to family life right to life Right to Privacy right to swim riots Roma Romania Round Up Royals Russia saudi arabia Scotland secrecy secret justice Secret trials security services sexual offence Sikhism Smoking social media social workers South Africa south african constitution Spain special advocates spending cuts Standing starvation statelessness stem cells stop and search Strasbourg super injunctions Supreme Court Supreme Court of Canada surrogacy surveillance swine flu Syria Tax Taxi technology Terrorism terrorism act tort Torture travel treason treaty accession trial by jury TTIP Turkey Twitter UK Ukraine unfair consultation universal jurisdiction unlawful detention USA US Supreme Court vaccination vicarious liability Wales War Crimes Wars Welfare Western Sahara Whistleblowing Wikileaks wildlife wind farms WomenInLaw Worboys wrongful birth YearInReview Zimbabwe


This blog is maintained for information purposes only. It is not intended to be a source of legal advice and must not be relied upon as such. Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their individual authors, not of chambers as a whole.

Our privacy policy can be found on our ‘subscribe’ page or by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: