The European Convention of Human Rights Act and Brexit
The United Kingdom voted for Britain to leave the European Union with a majority of just under 52%. What does this mean for human rights?
The UK is signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Currently the rights in the ECHR are also protected in UK law through the Human Rights Act (HRA).
There seems to be little public education about the rights and freedoms contained in the HRA, and how it works. As a result, many myths and misunderstandings have sprung up about the HRA including who it does and doesn’t protect and what values it contains, such that it is mainly relied upon in immigration cases to assist foreign nationals to remain in the country. However this is a misconception. The HRA is based upon human dignity.
The HRA was introduced by Labour with cross-party support in 1998. The act protects 15 fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to life, privacy and free speech, which are all based on articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. The freedoms must be upheld by all public bodies and British courts and tribunals must interpret legislation accordingly.
The Government proposed to consult on repealing the HRA to replace it with a Bill of Rights. Conservatives state that this is in order to break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights and stop the act being “misinterpreted”. They argue that foreign nationals who have committed serious crimes are able to use the freedoms guaranteed under the Human Rights Act to justify remaining in the UK. They have also expressed “mounting concern” at Strasbourg’s attempt to overrule decisions made by parliament and the courts, such as lifting the ban on prisoners’ voting rights or banning whole-life sentences for serious crimes.
Instead the Conservatives plan to introduce a “British bill of rights” rooted in “British values”. The HRA contains a “laudable” set of principles for a modern democratic nation, says the party, and it does not plan to introduce new basic rights. Instead, its aim is to “restore common sense and tackle the misuse of the rights contained in the Convention“. This could set a dangerous precedent, stripping UK citizens of rights held by others in the union.
The Human Rights Act protects everyone’s human rights: young and old, rich and poor, British, foreign and European nationals. Anybody’s privacy can be breached by the State, anybody can be badly let down by the authorities, or wrongly accused of a crime, anybody can be discriminated by a public body by reason of their race, background, sexuality, religion, etc
The HRA requires the State to take practical steps to protect people whose rights are threatened by others no matter their nationality, or background. The courts must apply and interpret; if they do find legislation to be incompatible with human rights, they can make a declaration of incompatibility.
Some examples of how the HRA does not only protect foreign or European nationals are where any individual may defend claims regarding sex discrimination cases at work, where social services don’t act adequately in order to protect children, or when disabled individuals request suitable access to public transports, public areas, etc.
Hence scrapping or limiting the Act could have serious consequences for all UK residents and not only for European or foreign nationals as it is commonly viewed.
LUPINS Solicitors are leading immigration specialists with huge expertise in all aspects and complexities of Asylum and Human Rights applications and with a passion for human rights.