Human Rights Act repeal could jeopardise Good Friday Agreement safeguards

Steven Agnew MLA offers his view on the Human Rights Act

We often hear the cry ‘that’s against my human rights’, but what impact does the Human Rights Act really have and what is the Conservative government so scared of?

The Human Rights Act is a simple, effective way of bringing human rights into every day decision making for public authorities, offering protection and/or justice for ordinary people. It is not about creating barriers and obstacles; rather it gives a voice to those who need it.

UK law has led the way on the tradition of human rights, going back to the Magna Carta in 1215. The Human Rights Act was constructed to bring the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law and decision making, as a way to allow British courts deal with human rights issues rather than having cases heard in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Indeed the EHCR was inspired by a group of European nations to protect its people from horrors and abuse such as that proffered during the Second World War. British experts were heavily involved in drafting the EHCR; the UK was the first country to sign up to it in 1951.

Repealing the human rights act would have profound effects on a number of levels.

Currently, human rights – your rights, cannot be in the gift of the state to give, take away or change. This would alter. It would appear that the Conservatives want to introduce a ‘British Bill of Rights’, seeking to change who actually gets ‘human rights’ and what such rights are. This would undercut the fundamental principle that rights are universal and constant, with minimum standards that you and I can rely on.

As a consequence of replacing the Human Rights Act, the UK may have to step away from the ECHR. Remaining a signatory to the ECHR is critical to UK citizens and to the reputation and international standing of the UK. The UK would lose status as a champion of human rights.

Locally, the Human Rights Act is embedded in the Good Friday Agreement, guaranteeing safeguards for everyone, which neither the Assembly nor public bodies can infringe.

I can only hope that the Conservatives do not, in their misguided attempt to undermine your fundamental rights, jeopardise the progress made in Northern Ireland.

This article was published on the Belfast Telegraph DebateNI blog on Monday 1 June 2015.

Tags: ,