Written by Laura Trevelyan, Human Rights Act Campaign Manager at Amnesty International
In the run-up to the Queen’s speech, we were preparing for the announcement of scrapping the Human Rights Act – the juggernaut had been gaining momentum with stories in the press about the new British Bill of Rights. Lawyer Martin Howe was drafting the Bill (rumours said he was on draft 7) and it was thought to be ready to go.
And then, suddenly, a consultation was announced and not a bill.
The government put on the brakes as they started to realise the levels of complexity involved.
We believe this is partly through public pressure – through people like you speaking up for the Act and its protection of all of our rights.
From adding your name to our people-powered, double-page ads in two national papers, to calling on your MP and spreading the word in your local area – your support has been incredible.
— Carole Scott (@carole_m_scott) May 26, 2015
— Jessica Lynde (@JessLynde) May 17, 2015
Doing the hokey cokey
There was furious toing and froing by government last week – everyday there was a new story in the papers.
Is Cameron saying no to withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights? Wait a minute; is he now saying it is still an option?
Will the Act repeal be delayed until after the EU referendum?
In case anyone in any doubt, No10 spokesman underlines Cameron point that withdrawal from ECHR still a live option.
— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) June 3, 2015
While the government may have slightly delayed the end of the Human Rights Act, don’t be fooled – our rights are still under attack. They will be having a consultation and it’s likely to come this autumn.
One thing that is certain is this will not be an easy fight but at Amnesty we are ready for it – and we know thousands of you are too!
You emailed your MP – they heard you
In less than 24 hours, over 7,000 of you emailed your MPs asking them to attend a debate after the Queen’s speech and speak in defence of the Human Rights Act.
You sent emails to 645 of the 650 MPs – amazing! Thank you to everyone who took part (we’ll have to crack 650 next time…)
Your actions definitely had an impact. Seventeen MPs talked about the Human Rights Act from across the political parties and there was a spirited debate.
Theresa May, Secretary of State, set out the government’s plans by stating that:
‘We will bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. This would reform and modernise our human rights legal framework and restore common sense to the application of human rights laws.’
There was a defence of the Act from the opposition parties with Yvette Cooper (Shadow Foreign Affairs) setting out Labour’s position:
‘We in the Labour party will do everything in our power to stop the Tory party destroying Churchill’s legacy. We will stand up for our human rights, responsibility and respect for our common humanity, and I hope that this whole Parliament will do so, too.’
The SNP also spoke in defence with Joanna Cherry MP (Home and Justice Affairs Spokesperson) saying:
‘I and my party are fundamentally opposed to the repeal of the Act and would consider it a thoroughly retrograde step if that were to be done.’
The defense was continued by others including Keir Starmer MP who used his maiden speech to give a rousing defense of the Act including setting out how important it is for some of the most vulnerable in society:
‘The Human Rights Act has heralded a new approach to the protection of the most vulnerable in our society, including those in care homes, child victims of abuse and of trafficking, women subjected to domestic and sexual violence, those with disabilities, and victims of crime.’
But not everyone agreed with us. Andrew Stephenson MP stated that: ‘given that in the past 24 hours, lobby groups such as Amnesty have encouraged my constituents to email me about the Human Rights Act, let me put it on record that I strongly support the steps that the Government are taking to replace it with a British Bill of Rights’.
Although he is not in support of the act, it is great that your pressure meant he felt the need to mention this in the debate.
The Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, who is leading this work, stated:
‘We need to look at the matter again. But it is important that we do so in a spirit that is open-minded and that does not seek to prejudge things.’
As the government works out what it will present in the consultation, we’ll be finding ways to engage Michael Gove and all party MPs, and continuing to fight for the Human Rights Act.
We must all continue to share and celebrate the stories of the real people who have been helped by the Human Rights Act – people like Jan Sutton.
While we’re pleased the government has faltered on scrapping the Human Rights Act for now – no doubt they’ll put it back on the agenda soon enough. And when it is, we’ll need your help to stop them.
What you can do right now: