Friday, 28 May 2010

What does the Human Rights Act actually mean?

I recently wrote about the Human Rights Act 1998 and my belief that it is the interpretation of the Human Rights Act that is the problem not the Act itself. The current interpretation of the Act seems to manifest itself as an abuse to common sense which has resulted in the extreme negative reaction given by many people when it is discussed. In its purest form, the Human Rights Act is a worthy legislation that can provide a strengthen legal foundation for many.

Prior to October 2000, it was necessary to go to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to claim your human rights. Cases were long and drawn out and the expense to do this were high and for many this option was beyond their financial means. However, the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 ensured that the human rights contained within the European Convention became enforceable in UK courts. Whilst procedures may still be long and drawn out, the costs have been somewhat lowered and it has given more people access to claim their rights.

As highlighted in my earlier blog, for many the Act is open to extreme abuse and this has resulted in a negative acceptance of the Act but what does the Act actually ensure? Many people do not know or do not want to understand the Act in its simplest form and, therefore, I felt it would be interesting to go back to the basics of the Act.

The rights under the law are:-

The right to life;
The right not to be tortured, also not to be treated or punished in a degrading or inhuman way;
The right not to have to do forced labour or be a slave;
The right to liberty and security of person;
The right to a fair trial;
The right to freedom from retrospective penalities or laws;
The right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence;
The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
The right to freedom of expression;
The right to freedom of assembly and association; and
The right to marry and have a family.

The right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions;
The right to education;
The right to free elections at regular intervals; and
The abolition of the death penalty.

At the present time, it is fair to say that the Human Rights Act does not have a particularly good public image mainly due to the fact that the true and honest cases do not make as clever headlines as when the act is abused by criminals or by those charged with upholding the law. To try and rebalance this I show below some positives that have come about because of the Human Rights Act and I hope it may just sway you to see the benefits of this legislation.

Rachel Gunter is severely disabled and requires constant nursing. After caring for Rachel 24 hours a day for 6 years, her parents were no longer able to give her the physical support and mental stimulation she required. Mr and Mrs Gunter approached the Primary Care Trust for help. The Trust, reluctant to provide care in the Gunter's home, hoped to put Rachel into a residential facility. However, Rachel’s parents felt this would deprive her of the mental stimulation that they could provide, and that had already increased Rachel’s confidence and communication skills. In 2005, the courts ordered that the Trust reconsider its decision on the grounds that taking Rachel from her home would infringe on her right to family life under Article 8.

The right of same-sex couples to succeed to a tenancy in the event of the death of a partner was established in the case of Antonio Godin Mendoza in 2004. The House of Lords concluded that the less favourable treatment of the survivors of long-term homosexual partnerships resulting from the literal reading of the Rent Act provisions could be remedied by altering the definition of ‘spouse’ to include persons of the same-sex. This would be to ‘read and give effect to’ the Defendant’s right to respect for private life (Article 8) and the prohibition on discrimination (in Article 14).

Smith v Oxfordshire Coroner 2009 defined that British soldiers were protected by the human rights act and that a government was therefore under a duty to take all reasonable steps to protect them. The ruling doesn't mean that soldiers can't go in to battle and risk their lives, but it does mean the government is under a legal obligation to properly equip soldiers and can be held responsible for their deaths if a soldier dies when the government could so easily have prevented that death.

Last year the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK government CANNOT keep DNA records of innocent people - it also put a time limit on the DNA records of "minor criminals".

Prior to a woman taking action against the British government, rape victims in England were subject to lengthy cross-examination in person by men who were alleged to have violated them. As a result of a judgment protecting her right not to be subject to "inhuman and degrading treatment", the law in this country was changed.

In fact in the last few weeks those of you who voted in the General Election benefitted from the Human Rights Act. That is the right to vote in free elections.

And every one who enjoys slating the Human Rights Act is doing so under the Human Rights Act - the right to free expression.

Maybe we should all take another look at the Act in its purest form and be proud that we respect the human rights of people, even if they don't, at times, strictly "deserve" it.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Human Rights Act 1998

The Human Rights Act 1998 received Royal Assent on 9th November 1998 and, for the most part, came into force on 2nd October 2000. Its aim of this Act is to "give further effect" in UK law to the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. The Act, therefore, makes available in UK courts a remedy for breach of a Convention right, without the need to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

From its introduction the Human Rights Act 1998 has been somewhat controversial and there have been many high profile cases that, through media exposure, have given the Act a bad name. For many, the Human Rights Act has been seen to be legislation that helps only the villain to the detriment of hard working honest citizens.

Cases such as:-

Venables and Thompson v. News Group Newspapers – The James Bulger murder case tested whether the Article 8 (privacy) rights of Venables and Thomson, the convicted murderers of Bulger, applied when four newspapers sought to publish their new identities and whereabouts, using their Article 10 rights of freedom of expression. Dame Butler-Sloss granted permanent global injunctions not to publish the material because of the disastrous consequences such disclosure might have for the former convicts, not least the possibility of physical harm or death;

Afghan hijackers 2006 - In May 2006, a politically controversial decision regarding the treatment of 9 Afghan men who hijacked a plane to flee from the Taliban. It was ruled by an Immigration Tribunal, under the Human Rights Act, that the hijackers could remain in the United Kingdom; a subsequent court decision ruled that the government had abused its power in restricting the hijackers' right to work;

and most recently

Abid Naseer and Ahmad Faraz Khan - won the right to stay in Britain even though the court accepted they were planning an “imminent” attack in Manchester when they were arrested last year. The judge said he was “satisfied” that ringleader Naseer, in particular, “still poses a serious threat to the national security of the United Kingdom” but his hands were tied by the Human Rights Act because the two men might be tortured if they were sent home to Pakistan;

have done little to enhance the general opinion of The Human Rights Act.

However, in my opinion, it is the interpretation of the Human Rights Act that is the problem not the Act itself. In its purest form, the Human Rights Act is a worthy legislation that can provide a strengthen legal foundation for many. It is unfortunate that abuses of its aims have occurred but the law will always be tested to the extreme.

As our Coalition Government begins its working partnership, it will be interesting to see how they address the Human Rights Act. In the past, David Cameron and the Conservatives have stated that they want to see the Act scrapped and replaced with a Bill of Rights but Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats oppose this idea.

One thing is for sure, they need to work on improving the image of the existing Act and we need to see more positive stories of how the Act has been implemented.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The New Equality Act 2010

Within the UK there is specific legislation on equality that outlaws discrimination and provides the mechanisms for individuals to address issues through the courts when they experience unlawful discrimination. At the present time, the legislation focuses on specific areas of equality and as such there are a number of different Acts in place i.e. The Race Relations Act 1976, The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and, of course, Disability Discrimination Act 1995. However, during this year changes will take place that will result in all the equality strands being dealt with under one new Act – The Equality Act 2010.

This fundamental change will mean that existing legislation will no longer apply. Many people seem to be unaware of the changes and the impact it will have. Most people have a generalised understanding of The Race Relations Act 1976 or The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 but very few understand the intricate measures that are addressed by the lesser known Acts such as The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 or Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006. It may be that these lesser known Acts lose some of their identity when encompassed within the new Equality Act and we need to ensure that this is not the case.

The Equality Act itself was passed through Parliament on 6th April 2010 and received Royal Assent on 8th April 2010. The time line for introduction of the Equality Act 2010 is as follows:

October 2010: the main provisions of the Equality Act will become law and the DDA will no longer have the force of law.

April 2011: the integrated public sector Equality Duty, the Socio-economic Duty and dual discrimination protection apply.

2012: the ban on age discrimination in provision of goods, facilities, services and public functions applies.

2013: the private and voluntary sector gender pay transparency regulations (if required) and political parties publishing diversity data applies.

In the meantime, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and other existing legislation still effectively applies until October 2010. Don’t let ignorance be an excuse – take a little time to find out how the changes to the existing legislation will impact on every aspect of life within the UK.

Should you wish to find out more about the new Equality Act 2010 feel free to contact who will be happy to provide details of workshops currently being run to enhance your understanding of the Equality Act and its application.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Coalition Government

Well what a couple of weeks it has been in politics! I have to admit I was a little frustrated with all the Hung Parliament business as it seemed to take an age to sort although in truth it was only five days. Many seemed to agree with me as over 58% of the electorate were disgruntled with the situation we faced but we only had ourselves to blame – after all we were the ones voting.

So what now for the UK Parliament.........

Our new Prime Minister, David Cameron has set out his government which has included Nick Clegg as the new deputy prime minister and several other Lib Dems. Whilst I appreciate that no party gained a majority, it does seem somewhat weird to have the leader of the party that came third and his ministers in such key positions. Of course, this coalition is the first time there has been a Conservatives and Liberal Democrats power-share at Westminster and the first coalition in the UK since the Second World War so we will all have to wait and see how it works in practice.

As I listened to Gordon Brown’s resignation speech last week, I have to say I did feel a little compassionate for him. It seems to me that for once we had a leader that actually told it how it was without the spin but his downfall was somewhat governed by global events and his prickly personality. It was quite nice to observe him as he spoke about his family – he seemed totally relaxed and far more approachable than I had ever seen him. I wish him the very best for the future and hope that he does not disappear completely into obscurity – after all there are many areas in which he can still excel in - maybe a role within the International Monetary Fund beckons.

As we move forward into our new Parliament we can only hope that in-party squabbles are kept to a minimum and that the Coalition Government can offer our country some stability and solid foundations to move firmly out of recession. No-one can deny that the priority of the new Coalition Government must be to cut our national debt but any cuts must go hand-in-hand with measures and incentives that will boost growth and confidence within our businesses.

We must all play our part and heed the words of our new Prime Minister when he said “If we pull together, we can do it.”

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Economic Plans

UK GDP only grew by 0.2% in the first quarter of 2010, lagging behind the predicted 0.4% growth rate widely expected by many. This minute growth shows that we are far from being out of woods where economic growth is concerned. This country now needs strong economic strategies to increase the growth and to prevent a further dip back into recession.

At present, the country’s deficit is some £167 billion this year. In 1997 when Labour came to power our national debt stood at £350 billion – today it has more than doubled and stands at £776 billion with interest rising at a rate of £5,000 per second. Frightening figures to say the least!

As we enter the last days before the General Election on 6th May, we need to be considering the main issues that any future Government must address:-

• This country currently has a high unproductive public sector with high finance leaks and little accountability;

• This country currently has a small wealth-generating private sector which constantly has its hands tied by taxation;

• This country has an aging population, which will only increase, who are struggling to survive on low pensions forcing many onto the poverty line;

• This country has a million unemployed youngsters who feel despondent about their futures and are empathic to the political arena as politicians fail to engage with them.

The future of this country is very much dictated by implementing the correct economic policies that will not only see us through the current economic climate but also steer us into a brighter and more stable growth pattern.

Our political parties now need to define clearly their strategies and plans for this future growth to ensure that the voters can make an informed decision when casting their votes.

Labour have failed to give a clear and workable recovery plan to date – it would appear that their policy is more of the same which has clearly not worked.

Conservatives sprout figures convincingly but do seem to be relying on huge cuts in public spending – let’s hope this does not mean poorer service levels across the board. They have also failed to see the advantages of tax increases and closing of tax loopholes that only benefit the wealthy within our country.

Liberal Democrats seem determined to trash the pound and join the Euro. As Greece tips over into bankruptcy their economic situation can only have a negative effect on the Euro. Timing for the Liberal Democrats could not be worse as entering the Euro at the present time can only spell disaster for our fragile economy.

Let’s stop the chat and the bickering and see some strong and workable economic policies that will nurture our economy and see the national debt decrease and confidence increase.