What anniversary falls on the 11th November? It is Remembrance Day. This year it is the 100th anniversary of the guns going silent – for a while. Discussion about today is all through the press. The only thing I will say is: what is remembrance if we do not learn the lessons it teaches us? Which leads me on to this …
What I will talk about in this Blog is the threatened Human Rights Act. There is nothing to stop the Tory’s replacing this with a Bill Of British Values instead.
As we have seen from past Conservative practice, the little man will come out worst.
What has the Human Rights Act done for the country? The Human Rights Act has been absolutely key to the big justice fights of the last 20 years. On the 20th anniversary of the act receiving Royal Assent, I’d like to write about 20 Cases that were helped by the Human Rights Act.
The Human Rights Act is the principal law protecting human rights in the UK. The Act incorporates into UK law 16 rights from the European Convention of Human Rights.
The European Convention on Human Rights was drafted just after the Second World War. This was part of the promise of ‘never again’.
  1. Hillsborough football disaster – after 27 years of fighting for justice, the Hillsborough families were able to use the Human Rights Act to uncover the truth about how their 96 loved ones died.
  2. Mid-Staffs and NHS negligence – Families affected by the scandal have been able to launch 119  legal claims against the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust using the Human Rights Act.
  3. Equal rights for gay couples – Juan Godin-Mendoza is a gay man who proved that he had as much right to take over a protected tenancy after the death of his partner as the survivor of a married or cohabiting heterosexual couple.
  4. Proper equipment for soldiers serving in the army – Snatch Land Rovers, nicknamed “mobile coffins”, were developed to transport troops in Northern Ireland. They were subsequently deployed in the Afghan and Iraq conflicts. Families from some of the 37 whose sons and daughters died in Snatch Land Rovers brought claims against the government, mainly under the Human Rights Act.
  5. Modern-day slavery and traffickingPatience Asuquo was brought to the UK as a domestic worker and nanny. For two-and-a-half years she was physically and mentally abused. She was never paid and her employer withheld her passport. Patience eventually managed to escape – only to be met with police disinterest. Using Article 4 of the Human Rights Act, no slavery or forced labour, human rights organisation Liberty forced the police to reopen the case and Patience’s employer was finally prosecuted.
  6. Do Not Resuscitate notices – following a complaint brought by relatives of patients who had had Do Not Resuscitate notices placed on their notes without their consent, a commission found that patients must be told if doctors consider that CPR should not be carried out on the grounds that it would not work; they have the right to a second opinion; and that where they do not have the capacity, their family or advocate should be consulted. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, which intervened in the case, argued that being able to make a decision about whether a life is worth living is a fundamental right protected under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act.
  7. Freedom of the press –the Milton Keynes Citizen’s reporter Sally Murrer was bugged by Thames Valley Police under police spying powers. She always maintained her stories were in the public interest and that her sources and correspondence should have been private. After being arrested and spending 19 months on police bail, the case against her collapsed after the judge ruled that the police had breached her Article 10 freedom of expression rights which protect journalists and their sources, and the evidence was not admissible.
  8. Peace Agreement in Northern Ireland – during the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland, thousands of people lost their lives and many more were injured.
  9. Justice for a murdered mother Celia Peachey’s mother Maria was murdered by her violent ex-partner, despite repeatedly asking the police for help. Celia used the Human Rights Act to hold the police to account for their catalogue of failings in protecting her, and in investigating her death.
  10. Elderly couple separated by council Mr and Mrs Driscoll had lived together for over 65 years. When Mr Driscoll was moved into a residential care home, Mrs Driscoll wanted to move to the home with her husband but was told she didn’t meet the criteria. This was a clear breach of the couple’s right to a family life as protected by the Human Rights Act and a public campaign was launched to encourage social services to think again. As a result, Mrs Driscoll’s needs were re-assessed and the couple were reunited – setting an example to cite for elderly couples who want to remain together in a care home.
  11. Equal rights for unmarried couplesThe Supreme Court ruled that to deny a widow bereavement benefits because she and her partner of 23 years were unmarried was discriminatory and a breach of article 14 (non-discrimination) and article 8 (private and family life) of the Human Rights Act.
  12. Disabled women left bed-bound by inadequate care provision Jan Sutton had multiple sclerosis. For years, Jan’s local council only paid for carers to make a limited number of short 30-minute visits to her home. They would help Jan wash, dress and use the toilet at those times, but the rest of the time she was confined to her bed. It was degrading and left her with a desperately difficult life. Jan took legal action under the Human Rights Act to secure better care from the council and won. She was able to enjoy a better quality of life because of the case and became a committed campaigner for human rights and the Human Rights Act until her death last year.
  13. Asperger’s sufferer facing deportation to the US – Gary McKinnon is a British man with Asperger’s, who was accused in 2002 of hacking into NASA and Pentagon computer systems while searching for information on UFOs. Instead of allowing him to be tried in the UK, the US government attempted to have Gary extradited to the USA to face trial. If convicted, he would have faced 60 years in jail. In 2012, the then Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the threat to Gary’s health was so high that sending him to trial in the USA would be incompatible with the UK’s responsibility to protect his human rights. Gary was spared extradition by the Human Rights Act.
  14. John Worboys’ victims challenge police failure to investigate – two victims of John Worboys challenged the police over their failure properly to investigate the case.
  15. Deepcut army barracks suicides  Anne-Marie Ellement was a military police officer who killed herself as a result of bullying and ‘work-related despair’ in 2011. An inquest failed to investigate the circumstances of her death. Years later, using the Human Rights Act, Anne-Marie’s sisters secured a fresh inquest relying on the right to life, and a rape investigation under the right to freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. As a result, a trial took place in which two former soldiers were acquitted, but the MOD announced it would establish a complaints ombudsman to investigate complaints made by troops.
  16. Police retaining DNA and fingerprints of innocent people when a 12-year-old boy and a middle-aged woman were arrested but then had all charges against them dropped, the police refused to destroy the DNA samples and fingerprint records they’d taken. In both cases, the Human Rights Act helped them challenge that.
  17. Right to marry regardless of religious beliefs – in 2005, Karen and Martin became the first couple in Britain to have a legally-recognised humanist wedding.
  18. 19-year-old killed by racist cellmate – Zahid Mubarek had been sentenced to 90 days’ detention for theft. Inside prison, he was described as a “model prisoner”. On 21 March 2000, five hours before he was due to be released, Zahid was beaten to death by Robert Stewart, a racist with a history of violence, with whom he shared a cell. Stewart later admitted the murder and drew a swastika on the wall. The Mubarek family fought for an independent public inquiry using the Human Rights Act under the right to life (Article 2) to investigate deaths where the state might be implicated.
  19. Grenfell fire – there are many serious human rights questions to be answered about the role of public officials in this tragedy both at a local level – such as why the concerns of residents about safety went unheard or ignored, the design and recent refurbishment of the building, the lack of local fire-safety procedures – and at a national level – in terms of changes to fire service powers and regulations on building safety. Four of the Human Rights Act rights are particularly relevant to Grenfell: right to life (Article 2), the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3), right to respect for private and family life (Article 8) and the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions (Article 1) These rights have been used by people involved in other tragedies to hold public officials to account for loss of life, but also loss of homes and possessions. The independent watchdog the Equality and Human Rights Commission is intending to carry out its own inquiry into whether central and local government met their obligations under the Human Rights Act in respect to Grenfell, to ensure the right lessons are learned
  20. The Windrush scandal – leading human rights law firm Leigh Day has said it is preparing a potential group action case for the Windrush victims against the Home Office. They will be arguing that the policies and practices of the Home Office that caused such harm to people long settled in this country were discriminatory and unlawful as they were in breach of the Human Rights Act for being ‘inhuman and degrading’ and contrary to Article 3 and Article 8 of the Human Rights Act.

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