“For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.” – David Cameron, 13th May 2015
Well, that didn’t take long, did it? No sooner than a few days after the news that we’re to endure another Tory majority government (albeit one with a majority only barely greater than Major’s 1992 fragile win) and we see what’s in store for us. Almost first on the agenda, an aggressive move against our civil liberties and a move to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights.
To understand the significance of this we need to look at the history of the convention and why it came about.
Like much of the early history of the European Union and other such institutions, the ECHR was birthed from the recoil from the horrors of the Second World War and was drafted by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in 1949. It sought to match the then newly drafted Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was part of the wider strategy by the Allied nations to ensure that no government or country could attack its own or any other populace with the severe violations committed during the war. Over 100 parliamentarians from twelve countries, including the leading role played by the UK, drafted the 59 Articles of the Convention.
Some of these articles are so self evident; such as the right to marry and raise a family, protections against torture, the right to life and freedom from slavery, that it may be a wonder to some that they have only been put into such a convention within living memory. And yet, Cameron would sweep them away. What could possibly scare him so?
Certainly Article 7’s clause against retroactivity may yet cause him problems due to the debacle in 2013 when Iain Duncan Smith’s Workfare program was deemed unlawful until the government decided by fiat that it was and always had been. (See: http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/dwp-retrospective-law-fascist-workfare.html)
Even Article 16, which prohibits EU nations from considering other EU citizens as “foreigners” has serious implications for his attempts to restrict welfare, the right to work and the right to free movement within the European Union.
But from what’s been said just this week, it seems that what Cameron is most interested in is avoiding a repeat of the 2009 instance of the near-breach of Article 15 on derogations from the Convention in extremis. In that case (A v United Kingdom: http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=002-1647) it was found that while the UK was right to apply to partially suspend the convention in the wake of the Sept 11th attacks the measures it actually took (extending detention without trial and control orders to British citizens as well as foreign terrorists) were disproportionate.
I rather suspect that Cameron’s attempts to replace the ECHR is less about removing the rights entirely but about allowing the government the “flexibility” to bend the rules whenever someone becomes an inconvenient embarrassment much like the case of Abu Hamza al-Masri who spent ten years successfully arguing that it would be illegal to extradite him to a torture using country to face prison conditions which would be considered degrading under British law and where he could possibly face the death penalty (i.e. The United States of America). Now, al-Masri was not a pleasant person and when he finally was deported he was duly tried, found guilty and incarcerated for his crimes but to scrap the entire basis for our human rights just to speed up the getting rid of such inconveniences is simply beyond the pale. It opens us all up to the time when we, too, become an inconvenience. As Cameron has stated, it is no longer a matter of whether we break the law or not.
Our Human Rights are just that. They are Rights. They are not suggestions to be ignored by the government at will. They must be protected and we must oppose the government’s inhumane attempt at authoritarian control.
It has long been the last defence of the proponents of the police state that those who have done nothing wrong have nothing to fear.
It is time for those people to step up now. Read that quote in the opening again. That defence has been shattered by the Prime Minister’s words today. What is your response now?
The Full Text of the ECHR: http://conventions.coe.int/treaty/en/Treaties/Html/005.htm
The Scottish Government’s adoption of the ECHR: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Justice/law/human-rights/Europeanconvention
More on the ECHR and Scots Law: http://www.scottishhumanrights.com/careaboutrights/howaremyhumanrightsprotectedinlaw
The implications for Scotland if ECHR is abolished: http://www.scottishhumanrights.com/careaboutrights/howaremyhumanrightsprotectedinlaw
14 Myths about ECHR spread by the press: http://rightsinfo.org/infographics/the-14-worst-human-rights-myths/
How abolishing ECHR could lead to indyref2: https://commonspace.scot/articles/1322/michelle-donnelly-why-abolishing-the-human-rights-act-won-t-make-britain-any-more-sovereign-and-could-be-the-road-to-indyref2