Human Rights, What Are They Good For?

…Absolutely nothing, according to the PM

At the start of October, Theresa May promised that British soldiers will no longer face a “legal witch hunt” of “vexatious” human rights claims, as the European Convention of Human Rights will no longer apply to them when on the battlefield. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, added that human rights claims mean “there is a real risk it will stop our armed forces doing their job. This would mean that rules of conflict would fall under laws such as the Geneva Convention and UK criminal law; although, according to Conor Gearty in The Guardian, this benefits the authorities due to their “effective unenforceability.”

This decision has been heavily criticised, with Des James – the father of an 18-year-old army recruit who died of a bullet wound at Deepcut Barracks in 1995 – saying that the government “is ignoring the many servicemen and women and their families, like mine, who have used the ECHR to hold the Ministry of Defence to account when it has failed to meet the standards we rightly expect and deserve, often with shattering consequences.” In addition, the director of human rights advocacy group Liberty, Martha Spurrier, said that “the government cannot be allowed to leave its human rights commitments at our borders. Doing so will leave abuse victims unprotected and our troops powerless when the state fails to keep them safe from harm.” Also affected would be victims of human rights abuses outside of our own armed forces – Spurrier has said the majority of human rights claims in fact deal with important issues that should not be ignored, such as torture. She said that “[t]he MoD has been forced to settle hundreds of cases of abuse, which speaks to mistreatment on the battlefield that we should be trying to eradicate, not permit”.

Is there a danger that human rights law in Britain could be even more limited in the future? According to Theresa May herself, yes. In 2013 she said that the Human Rights Act, which brings the ECHR into UK domestic law, was “interfering with our ability to fight crime and control immigration”, and asked “are we restricting our ability to act in the national interest?” She even said “that all options – including leaving the Convention altogether – should be on the table.”

This isn’t just a throwaway comment from a few years ago – as recently as August, the Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, confirmed plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a “British Bill of Rights”, which was also part of the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto. She claims that this would allow the UK to “protect human rights ourselves in a way that doesn’t jeopardise national security or bind the hands of Parliament.”

Although it is unclear how easily a British Bill of Rights would pass through Parliament – the future of human rights in the UK is worryingly uncertain and controversial.

[David McGinley – @mcgingly]

Image: RT

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