Following a defeated motion supported by 72 MPs to repeal the Human Rights Act, 72 civil society groups have called on Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, to secure and advance the Human Rights Act.
Coordinated by the British Institute of Human Rights, the signatories represent the diversity and richness of UK civil society, from national organisations like BIHR, Liberty, NCVO and Age UK, to community groups working with disabled people and carers, lawyers and advocates, and international bodies like Amnesty International UK and Human Rights Watch.
Across this diversity, what unites the signatories, says BIHR, is "a fundamental shared belief in the equal dignity of all people and the legal protection of basic human rights."
Reflecting the participation and inclusion themes of this year’s Human Rights Day (12 December 2012), the groups raise their collective concern about the direction of travel for the UK human rights debate.
On the eve of the report of the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights, the signatories noted that “what should be a healthy debate about how best to secure the human rights of each and every one of us has, for far too long, lacked political leadership.”
This, they say, “jeopardises the progress we have made at home in ensuring that our human rights obligations lead to real change for people in their everyday lives.” It also “places our reputation for international human rights leadership at risk.”
The signatories note that “The UK seeks to champion human rights abroad; now is the time to show leadership here at home, to re-connect the debate to the country's traditional values of fair play and our belief in basic human dignity and justice for everyone.”
On Human Rights Day the signatories are calling on the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to ensure “the protection of universal human rights is safe in the UK.” For them this means “securing and advancing our Human Rights Act.”
Stephen Bowen, Director of the British Institute of Human Rights, commented: “As Human Rights Day is celebrated across the globe, today is an opportunity for us to reflect on human rights here at home.”
He declares: “The Human Rights Act protects us all from the risk of abuse, neglect and injustice. We should be proud to live in a country where human rights are properly protected by the law, by our Human Rights Act. We need to make sure these protections are not put at risk by a lack of leadership.”
“At BIHR we see how the Human Rights Act is vital for all people. We see how the Act is a much-needed helping hand at times of disadvantage or vulnerability, helping to protect us when the system fails. We see how the Act empowers communities to hold decision-makers to account. We see how human rights are at the heart of our place in the world as a democratic and diverse society where people and communities can thrive, and flourish. Sadly, these everyday human rights stories are rarely heard in our current debates,” concludes Mr Bowen.
On 4 December 2012 Richard Bacon, a Conservative MP, introduced a Human Rights Act 1998 (Repeal) Bill in the House of Commons under the ten minute rule at Westminster. The motion was defeated with 72 voting in favour and 195 voting against.
The Commission on a UK Bill of Rights has not released its analysis of responses to its public consultations. However, BIHR’s reading of the responses suggests that around 80 per cent of respondents to the 2011 consultation paper said there is no need for a UK Bill of Rights (mainly because the Human Rights Act functions like one) or that if there is to be any new law this should sit alongside and build on the Act.
A similar result has emerged from the 2012 consultation which closed in September, as it appears that approximately 90 per cent of respondents included a statement that the Human Rights Act should be retained. The Commission’s report to Government is expected shortly, as it is required to report before the end of 2012.
* British Institute for Human Rights: http://www.bihr.org.uk
* The letter has been signed by the following organisations: Stephen Bowen, Director, British Institute of Human Rights; Gary Fitzgerald, Chief Executive, Action on Elder Abuse; Robert Taylor OBE, Chief Executive, Age Cymru; Duane Farrell, Director of Policy, Age NI; Brian Sloan, Interim Chief Executive, Age Scotland; Caroline Abrahams, Director of External Affairs, Age UK; Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK; Geof Armstrong, Director, Arcadea; Maurice Wren, Director, Asylum Aid; Dann Kenningham, National Coordinator, ATD Fourth World; Davina James-Hanman, Director, AVA (Against Violence and Abuse); Abdul Khan, Chief Executive, BECON; Nik Barstow, Director of Engagement & Involvement, BHA; Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, British Humanist Association; Ann Chivers, Chief Executive, British Institute of Learning Disabilities; Brian Gormally, Director, CAJ (Committee on the Administration of Justice); Peter Newell, Coordinator, Children are unbeatable! Alliance and Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children; Paola Uccellari, Director, Children's Rights Alliance for England; Paula Hardy, Prif Weithredwraig / Chief Executive, Cymorth i Ferched Cymru / Welsh Women’s Aid; Monica Wilson, Chief Executive, Disability Action NI; Liz Sayce OBE, Chief Executive, Disability Rights UK; Catherine Casserley, Chair, Discrimination Law Association; Beryl Randall, Director, Employability Forum; Jo Glanville, Director, English PEN; Amanda Ariss, Chief Executive, Equality and Diversity Forum; Katie Pratt, Chief Executive, Equality South West; Holly Dustin, Director, EVAW (End Violence against Women Campaign); Keith Best, Chief Executive, Freedom from Torture; Deborah Gold, Chief Executive, Galop; Christl Hughes, Secretary, Gender Identity Research & Education Society (GIRES); Samantha Smethers, Executive Director, Grandparents Plus; Benjamin Ward, Deputy Director, Human Rights Watch; Tracey Lazard, Chief Executive, Inclusion London; Helen Shaw and Deborah Coles, Co-Directors, INQUEST; Yvonne MacNamara, Chief Executive, Irish Traveller Movement in Britain; Shauneen Lambe, Executive Director, Just for Kids Law; Ratna Lachman, Director, JUST West Yorkshire; Julie Bishop, Director, Law Centre Network; Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, President, Law Society of England and Wales; Paul Martin OBE, Chief Executive, Lesbian and Gay Foundation; Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty; Eithne Rynne, Chief Executive, London Voluntary Services Council; Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind; Deborah Jack, Chief Executive, NAT (National AIDS Trust); Annette Lawson, Chair, National Alliance of Women’s Organisations; Des Kelly OBE, Executive Director, National Care Forum; Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive, NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations); Patrick Yu, Executive Director, Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities; Kath Parson, Chief Executive, Older People's Advocacy Alliance (UK); Karen Chandler, Campaigns Co-ordinator, Pembrokeshire People First; Vaughan Jones, Chief Executive, Praxis Community Projects; Juliet Lyon, Director, Prison Reform Trust; Sarah Crowther, Director, REAP (Refugees in Effective and Active Partnerships); Shan Nicholas, Interim Chief Executive, Refugee Council; Simon Abel, Director, Rene Cassin; Elizabeth Henry, Chief Executive, ROTA (Race on the Agenda); Rob Berkeley, Director, Runnymede Trust; Billy Watson, Chief Executive, SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health); Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive, Scope; Durrah Mahmood, Trustee, Songololo Feet; Dr Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, The Equal Rights Trust; Robert Sutherland, Convenor, Scottish Legal Action Group; Alison Marshall, Director of Public Affairs, UNICEF UK; Phil Mulligan, Executive Director, United Nations Association – UK; Peter Facey, Director, Unlock Democracy; Joyce Kallevik, National Director, Wish; Rachel Halford, Director, Women in Prison; Nicki Norman, Deputy Chief Executive, Women’s Aid; Annie Campbell, Director, Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland; Vivienne Hays, Chief Executive, Women’s 3.