The Conservatives and the Human Rights Act

David Davies has become the latest Conservative to attack the Human Rights Act, saying that “We should tear up the Human Rights Act and replace it with something that protects law abiding citizens from violent criminals”, in response to Keir Starmer’s speech defending the Human Rights Act yesterday.

The DPP summarised the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights in his speech. These are as follows:

  • Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law.
  • No one shall be subjected to torture or degrading treatment or punishment.
  • No one shall be held in slavery.
  • Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.
  • Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.
  • No one should be held guilty retrospectively of a criminal offence.
  • Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of expression.
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association.
  • Men and women have the right to marry.
  • The enjoyment of these rights and freedoms shall be secured without discrimination on any ground.

Like Starmer, I’d like to know which of these rights the Conservatives consider to be “un-British” and needing to be swept away.

I’d also like to know whether the Conservatives would welcome other countries in the Council of Europe “tearing up” the ECHR and implementing their own national “bills of rights” appealing to populist sentiment (“protecting law-abiding citizens from violent criminals”). Instead of the ECHR, we could have a “Russian bill of rights” (which I’m sure Vladimir Putin would be happy to help draft), or a “Romanian bill of rights”, say. Perhaps Belarus – currently excluded from the Council of Europe due to human rights concerns – could bypass the process by moving straight to a “bill of rights” that reflects its own unique cultural and political requirements rather than those of foreign judges and trendy liberal do-gooders.

I’m left wondering if the Conservatives accept the principle of universal human rights at all. How will they engage with countries with poor human rights records if those countries can just turn round and say, “Like you, we believe human rights are for each country to determine for its own people”?

Finally, I wish that every Conservative who agrees with calls to “tear up” the Human Rights Act would read this article by Conservative pundit Peter Oborne, in which he defends the Human Rights Act as “Churchill’s legacy”, enshrining rights which were formulated under British guidance and which are “absolutely fundamental to the British common law tradition”.

As such, the present Tory party’s hostility to the Human Rights Act should sound a warning for those tempted to believe a Conservative government would significantly reverse New Labour’s more authoritarian tendencies.


3 thoughts on “The Conservatives and the Human Rights Act”

  1. No one should be held guilty retrospectively of a criminal offence.

    Must… resist… Harman… joke.

    I’d also like to know whether the Conservatives would welcome other countries in the Council of Europe “tearing up” the ECHR

    It’s worth pointing out (in addition to my FB comment) that the Tories wouldn’t be tearing up the ECHR; merely the HRA. That’s bad enough, mind.

  2. I find the reference to Romania gratuitous and uniformed. Could you please explain it? Romania is a working democracy, and is as free, if not more so, than the UK, both in its economics, and in terms of free speech. I would welcome your clarifications, in this regard.

  3. Eugen: see link to Amnesty International report on human rights in Romania. I suggest you take it up with them!

    In any event, one reason I oppose the UK adopting a “British bill of rights” is because the ECHR holds us to a standard to which we also fail to live up to, and we shouldn’t evade that by adopting our own version that allows us more “flexibility”. That was my point, and it applies equally to the UK and Romania.

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